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China In Eurasia Briefing: Looking At Beijing's Ukraine Shuttle Diplomacy

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on April 9.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on April 9.

Welcome back to the China In Eurasia briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter tracking China's resurgent influence from Eastern Europe to Central Asia.

Looking ahead, we’ll be changing up the newsletter format and will start sending it out every week. Until then, it would be great to hear more about what you like about the newsletter currently and would want more of moving forward. Send me an e-mail to with your thoughts. Don’t be shy! :)

I'm RFE/RL correspondent Reid Standish and here's what I'm following right now.

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Looking At Beijing's Ukraine Shuttle Diplomacy

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently wrapped up a trip to Beijing where he met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, for talks on a series of "hot topics" amid Moscow's grinding war against Ukraine.

Finding Perspective: China has emerged as a close diplomatic ally for Russia and visits like this are becoming increasingly common.

Among those hot topics explored on April 8, Lavrov and Wang discussed bilateral ties and big issues like the war in Ukraine and tensions in the Asia-Pacific. The pair also said their governments had agreed to start a dialogue on Eurasian security with the aim of "double counteracting" the European-Atlantic alliance led by Washington.

The visit came as Moscow slowly but steadily advances on the battlefield in eastern Ukraine amid cracks in Western support.

In recent months, Beijing has also resumed some of the stagnant shuttle diplomacy between Kyiv, Moscow, and European Union capitals that began as the war entered its second year.

From March 2-11, Li Hui, the special representative on Eurasian affairs that Beijing appointed as its envoy, was doing the rounds in Europe as he sought to "mediate and build consensus" to end the "Ukraine crisis," which is how China officially refers to the grinding war.

Li's diplomatic rounds were similar to his previous tour, which failed to generate any headway. During his initial visit in May 2023, he promoted Beijing's 12-point paper (often referred to as a peace plan) that set out general principles for ending the war but did not get into specifics.

This time around, Li's European stops looked much more geared toward getting a feel for EU resolve toward the war and probing for cracks and space that could allow for an end to the war on more Russian-friendly terms.

There are few indicators that Li's shuttle diplomacy has generated any positive momentum. The 12-point paper received a lukewarm reception in both Russia and Ukraine when it was released in February 2023, and was criticized by Brussels and Washington for accommodating Moscow while not condemning the invasion.

Why It Matters: Li's recent trip looks less designed to find solutions to end the war than to gauge the levels of Ukraine fatigue among Europe's top brass.

Beijing has good reason to send out such a scouting mission. Elections for the European Parliament will come in June and the specter cast by November's U.S. presidential election is hanging over the continent.

The flow of U.S. weapons is currently held up in Congress and a victory for former President Donald Trump could further hamper support for Kyiv -- and there's major questions about whether European support alone could sustain Ukraine on the battlefield.

Both Beijing and Moscow are seeing some blood in the water at the moment and are looking to see if there's more.

The week before his recent visit to China, Lavrov said that China had proposed the most reasonable peace plan so far for resolving the Ukraine conflict -- and Russian President Vladimir Putin will reportedly travel to China to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping in May.

All this growing coordination comes with a Swiss-hosted international peace conference in the summer about the war in Ukraine, where the issue of territorial concessions and what terms Kyiv and Moscow might be willing to accept will be hotly debated.

Three More Stories From Eurasia

1. European Lawmakers React To Chinese Hacking Campaign

The U.S. Justice Department unsealed an indictment in late March that says Chinese government-backed hackers carried out a multiyear campaign against lawmakers and critics around the world, including every European Union member from a group of deputies with hawkish views on China.

My colleagues and I spoke with some of those affected.

The Details: The indictment says Chinese government-backed hackers in 2021 went after "every European Union member" of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a global group of lawmakers.

Some 66 lawmakers from 12 EU-member parliaments are listed on IPAC's website, along with members from Britain, the United States, Ukraine, Japan, and others. The Chinese hackers also tried to infiltrate 43 British parliamentary accounts linked to lawmakers that were also IPAC members or had expressed critical views on China.

We spoke with several IPAC-affiliated lawmakers targeted in the hacking campaign. Many said they received suspicious e-mails like the ones the U.S. indictment says were used to try to gain access to their accounts -- with some even being notified about it by their respective intelligence and cybersecurity agencies.

All of the lawmakers say the attempts were unsuccessful.

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said on March 25 that more than 10,000 e-mails -- which appeared to come from news outlets, politicians, and critics of China -- were sent as part of the campaign that relied on using phishing e-mails containing hidden tracking links.

Antonio Milososki, a lawmaker and former foreign minister for North Macedonia, told us that cyberattacks had been a mainstay since he joined IPAC in 2021.

Pavel Popescu, a Romanian IPAC member who led his country's parliamentary National Security and Defense Committee in 2022, told us that he saw the hacking attempts as a badge of honor.

"This [U.S.] investigation is not a surprise to me, but only a simple confirmation that everything I've done over the years in parliament has been done well," he said.

Beyond the IPAC members, the sprawling Chinese hacking cybercampaign targeted U.S. officials, senators, journalists, Chinese political dissidents, Western military and tech companies, as well Britain's election watchdog and members of the European Parliament.

2. A China-Kazakhstan Spy Saga

A leading Kazakh sinologist and former senior government adviser, Konstantin Syroyezhkin, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on high-treason charges in 2019, has been released on parole five years early, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported.

What You Need To Know: The 67-year-old scholar was released from a maximum-security prison on April 4, but no further details were provided.

Syroyezhkin was sentenced on October 7, 2019. Details of the charges were not made public, but several local media outlets, as well as The Wall Street Journal, reported that he was accused of selling classified documents to people associated with Chinese intelligence.

Syroyezhkin is a former Soviet KGB agent, and from 2006 until his arrest in 2019, he worked as a leading expert and analyst at the presidential Institute for Strategic Research where he conducted research on China and Kazakh-Chinese relations.

It's unknown if Syroyezhkin has the right to remain in Kazakhstan or not, with reports from the time of his conviction saying that he was stripped of his citizenship.

3. Anti-China Terrorism In Pakistan

Five Chinese workers and their local driver were killed in a suicide bomb blast in northwestern Pakistan on March 26. Since then, Chinese contractors have halted construction on two major dam projects where the workers were assigned.

What It Means: The most recent attack was preceded by another attack on Chinese interests in the country in March near the strategic port of Gwadar.

The declining security situation highlights both the added pressure that the roughly $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is facing in the country, as well as the dangerous reality facing some Chinese megaprojects.

The Chinese companies working on the dam projects have demanded that Pakistani authorities come up with new security plans before reopening the sites where around 1,250 Chinese nationals are working.

On April 6, the Pakistani government announced that it would take disciplinary action against senior officials responsible for providing security to Chinese workers in the country.

The security of Chinese workers is a major concern to both governments and has become a growing point of friction between Beijing and Islamabad as Chinese nationals have been more frequently targeted by militants.

Across The Supercontinent

Not So Sweet: Beekeepers in Hungary say their "survival is at stake" because of plunging domestic honey prices, with some experts pointing to cheap, "fake" honey flooding the market from China as the culprit, RFE/RL's Hungarian Service reports.

Calling Comrade Xi: A conspiracy-minded fringe organization called Group for Romania is facing internal discord after some prominent members of the group publicly appealed to Putin and Xi for protection from Bucharest's so-called "Judeo-Euro-Atlantic political regime," RFE/RL's Romanian Service reports.

Yellen In Beijing: U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrapped up four days of talks in China with a warning to the country's banks and exporters that attempts to bolster Russia's military capacity for its war in Ukraine will be met with sanctions.

Brussels Gets Tough: The European Commission announced that it is launching an investigation into Chinese suppliers of wind turbines.

This comes as Brussels continues with another probe into Chinese electric vehicles, as well as solar panels, where the EU says they're facing unfair market advantages through subsidies.

One Thing To Watch

The United States, Britain, and Australia are set to begin talks on bringing new members into their AUKUS security pact as Washington pushes for Japan to be involved as a deterrent against China, the Financial Times reported.

AUKUS, formed by the three countries in 2021, is part of their efforts to push back against China's growing power in the Indo-Pacific region. China has called the AUKUS pact dangerous and warned it could spur a regional arms race.

That’s all from me for now. Don’t forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you might have.

Until next time,

Reid Standish

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    Reid Standish

    Reid Standish is an RFE/RL correspondent in Prague and author of the China In Eurasia briefing. He focuses on Chinese foreign policy in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and has reported extensively about China's Belt and Road Initiative and Beijing’s internment camps in Xinjiang. Prior to joining RFE/RL, Reid was an editor at Foreign Policy magazine and its Moscow correspondent. He has also written for The Atlantic and The Washington Post.

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About The Newsletter

China In Eurasia
Reid Standish

In recent years, it has become impossible to tell the biggest stories shaping Eurasia without considering China’s resurgent influence in local business, politics, security, and culture.

Subscribe to this biweekly dispatch in which correspondent Reid Standish builds on the local reporting from RFE/RL’s journalists across Eurasia to give you unique insights into Beijing’s ambitions and challenges.

To subscribe, click here.