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China has signalled it is willing to attend further international talks on resolving the conflict in Ukraine, according to European officials who hailed its “constructive” participation in a Saudi Arabian forum that excluded Moscow.
The weekend talks in Jeddah, which were attended by dozens of countries and focused on a 10-point peace plan proposed by Kyiv, concluded on Sunday without concrete developments. But the presence of Beijing, which weeks earlier declined to attend similar talks in Copenhagen, was seen as a coup for Kyiv and became the focus of the event among participants.
China unveiled a “no limits” partnership with Russia prior to Moscow’s February 2022 full-scale invasion of its neighbour, which Beijing has not condemned, and its release of a peace plan earlier this year had overlapped with the Kremlin’s talking points.
One European diplomat said China “appeared constructive” and “keen to show that [it] is not Russia”. The “mere presence of China shows Russia is more and more isolated”, the person said.
They added that China had indicated it would attend the next such meeting.
Another European official said China “participated actively and was positive about the idea of a third meeting at this level”.
President Xi Jinping visited Russian president Vladimir Putin in March in one of his first official trips after China’s three-year anti-Covid regime was lifted. However, Beijing has remained guarded on the trajectory of relations between the two powers. Last month, the FT reported that Xi had warned Putin against using nuclear weapons.
Beijing had made no comment on the meeting by Sunday evening.
Dozens of countries from the developing and developed world, including Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and the US, as well as the EU, attended the forum, which was at the level of national security advisers.
Western countries and Ukraine hoped the gathering would help isolate Russia and win backing for Ukraine among developing countries that had yet to declare a position on the invasion. Some view the conflict as between a US-led Nato and Moscow.
Host Saudi Arabia has close ties with China, its main trading partner, and has sought to expand its diplomatic presence globally.
Another European diplomat said there was “broad, general support” from all delegates that “respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine needs to be at the heart of any peace settlement”.
The participants agreed to set up working groups on the themes in Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s 10-point peace plan, which include global food security, nuclear safety, environmental security, humanitarian aid and prisoner release.
Ukraine is hoping for an international peace summit that would adopt its plan. One European official said on Saturday that a meeting attended by heads of states was still not decided on but could take place by the end of the year.
In an address on Saturday evening, Zelenskyy referred to the Jeddah conference, saying there were “different continents, different political approaches to global affairs, but everyone is united by the priority of international law”.
Andriy Yermak, head of Zelenskyy’s office, said on Sunday the talks had been positive. “We had very productive consultations on the principles on which a just and lasting peace should be built,” he said.
“All the participants demonstrated their countries’ commitment to the principles of the UN Charter, international law and respect for the sovereignty and inviolability of the territorial integrity of states.”
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s national security council and a former president, said on Sunday that Moscow had to be included in talks for any proposal to work.
“This was not there,” he said in a post on Telegram in which he said occupied Ukrainian territories belonged to Russia.
Russian-installed officials in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, said Ukraine’s armed forces had on Sunday conducted a missile strike on the Chongar bridge, which connects the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine’s Kherson region and another nearby crossing, damaging the roadway.
Ukraine said its air defences had intercepted 57 of the 70 missiles and drones that Russia had fired overnight across the country.
Reporting by Samer al-Atrush in Dubai, Thomas Hale in Shanghai, Roman Olearchyk in Kyiv, Sarah White in London, Ian Johnston and Henry Foy in Brussels and Anastasia Stognei in Riga