The UK stepped up calls for China to use its influence with Vladimir Putin to push for peace in Ukraine after it was announced that the Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Russia for talks next week.
The two day visit, starting on Monday, was announced by the Kremlin on Friday and is being seen as an apparent show of support for the Kremlin by Beijing. It will be President Xi’s first visit to Moscow since President Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine last February.
The two leaders are set to use the visit to discuss closer strategic ties but it may spark fresh fears among western allies that Beijing could be about to supply lethal weapons to Russia.
Responding to news of the visit at lunchtime on Friday, Downing Street said it would welcome China’s intervention if it wanted to “play a genuine role in restoring sovereignty to Ukraine”.
A No10 spokesman added: “We have called on them [China] before to use their influence over Russia to try and encourage Putin to withdraw his troops from Ukraine.
“We’re clear that any peace deal that is not predicated on Ukrainian sovereignty and self determination is not a peace deal at all. So we will continue to call on China as we have done before to join other countries across the world in calling on Putin to withdraw his troops.”
China has declared a “no-limits” friendship with Russia and refused to condemn Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine - while declaring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries be respected.
The Kremlin said the visit is taking place “at the invitation of” Mr Putin .
Mr Xi and Mr Putin will discuss “issues of further development of comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction between Russia and China”, as well as exchange views “in the context of deepening Russian-Chinese co-operation in the international arena”, the Kremlin said in a statement.
The two leaders will also sign “important bilateral documents”, the statement read.
Mr Putin invited Mr Xi to visit Russia during a video conference call the two held in late December.
The visit, Mr Putin said, could “demonstrate to the whole world the strength of the Russian-Chinese ties” and “become the main political event of the year in bilateral relations”.
In a rare phone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart on Thursday, China’s foreign minister said Beijing is concerned about the year-old grinding conflict with Russia spinning out of control and called for talks over a political solution with Moscow.
Beijing has also condemned western sanctions and accused Nato and the United States of provoking Russia.
Qin Gang told Dmytro Kuleba China has “always upheld an objective and fair stance on the Ukraine issue, has committed itself to promoting peace and advancing negotiations and calls on the international community to create conditions for peace talks”, China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its website.
Mr Kuleba later tweeted that he and Mr Qin “discussed the significance of the principle of territorial integrity”.
“I underscored the importance of (Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s)’s Peace Formula for ending the aggression and restoring just peace in Ukraine,” wrote Mr Kuleba, who spoke the same day with US secretary of state Antony Blinken.