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China's Xi to meet Putin in Russia in 'trip for peace' in Ukraine next week

The March 21-23 visit comes as China faces pressure to also talk to Ukraine and limit support to Russia.

By RFA Staff 2023.03.17 -- Chinese leader Xi Jinping will travel to Russia next week for talks with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, Beijing and Moscow announced on Friday as the U.S. warned against "one-sided" Ukraine peace plans and the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin for illegally deporting Ukrainian children.

Xi's visit to Moscow Monday to Wednesday, his first to China's closest global partner since Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, will be a "a trip for peace," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

"China will uphold an objective and fair position on the Ukraine crisis and play a constructive role in promoting talks for peace," he added.

China last month released a 12-point proposal for ending the war and called for a cease-fire and peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow. The plan received a cautious welcome from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy but was greeted skeptically by the U.S. and Europe because it called for an end to "unilateral sanctions" without demanding a Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territory.

China's attempts to portray itself as neutral in the conflict have been strained by Beijing's actions, including its refusal to condemn or even recognize Moscow's move into Ukraine in February 2022 as an invasion, its declaration of a "no-limits" friendship with Russia just weeks before the Russian aggression, and the parrotting of Moscow's propaganda by officials and state-controlled media blaming NATO for the war.

China has also provided diplomatic support for Moscow and held joint military drills with Russia, as state firms have snapped up Russian oil and gas at distressed prices to help ease the pain of international sanctions.

"A ceasefire now is, again, effectively the ratification of Russian conquest," White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters when asked about Xi's trip.

A premature pact would "in effect recognize Russia's gains and its attempt to conquer its neighbor's territory by force, allowing Russian troops to continue to occupy sovereign Ukrainian territory," he said, encouraging Xi to reach out to Zelenskyy as well as Putin.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Xi is expected to have a phone call with Zelenskyy after the trip, in what would be their first conversation since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang spoke by phone with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, on Thursday and "this topic, among others, was discussed by foreign ministers of Ukraine and China," the Washington Post reported, quoting a text from Ukrainian presidential spokesperson Serhiy Nykyforov. "So we can say that the work is in progress."

China's spokesman Wang declined to comment on the possible call, but said: "China's position on the Ukraine crisis is consistent and clear. We maintain communication with all parties."

Washington has released intelligence suggesting Beijing is considering providing "lethal support" to help Russia in the war, drawing an angry rejection from Beijing.

On Thursday the U.S. online outlet Politico reported that trade and customs data showed that Chinese companies have sent Russian entities 1,000 assault rifles, drone parts and body armor, among items that could be used for military purposes.

"China-Russia cooperation is completely aboveboard," Wang said when asked about the report.

"China always handles export of military items in a prudent and responsible manner and regulates export of dual-use articles in accordance with relevant laws and regulations," he told reporters.

In a development Friday that could complicate Xi's mission, International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia's commissioner for children's rights, accusing them of the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine, Reuters news agency reported.

Russia, like the U.S. and China, is not a party to the ICC, but the move will obligate the Netherlands-based court's 123 member states to arrest Putin and transfer him to The Hague for trial if he sets foot on their territory, Reuters noted.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the ICC allegations "outrageous and unacceptable," the agency reported.

Xi's visit to Putin comes in the wake of a surprise Chinese diplomatic success in brokering a detent between Middle East rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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