Skeptics wonder if Beijing is really motivated by a desire to stop the war or own interests.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping could face major hurdles if he truly wants to help end the 14-month war in Ukraine.
The main obstacles is that neither Ukraine nor Russia is ready to stop hostilities.
Xi Jinping's plan to send a special envoy to Ukraine allows his government to deflect criticism over Moscow’s support and play a more active role as a diplomatic force.
The announcement, made in his telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, sparked optimistic expectations that Beijing could use its cordial relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin to achieve peace.
But this was followed by questions from skeptics about whether Beijing is really motivated by a desire to stop the invasion, which it refuses to condemn, or its own interests.
The starting point for China was its peace proposals released in February. They called for a ceasefire, the start of negotiations and the lifting of sanctions against Russia. They contained few details, but repeated Russian accusations that Western countries were to blame for the invasion.
China has good reason to want the war to end.
It caused turmoil in the Chinese economy due to higher prices for oil, wheat and other commodities.
On Wednesday, Beijing also warned of the dangers of nuclear war after Russia announced its transfer of nuclear weapons to neighboring Belarus.
“It turned out that ending the war is in China’s interests,” an international relations scholar at Yonsei University in Seoul John Delury said.
“Beijing is not interested in the humiliation of Russia, nor in the triumph of Russia,” he said. “The best option is a ceasefire, and involvement with own economic opportunities in the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine.”
Wednesday’s statement made no reference to China’s recommendations to address the issues Russia and Ukraine are fighting over, including the issue of Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014.
Playing a peacemaker role, Beijing may also be seeking to create a rift between European allies and Washington, which Xi Jinping accuses of trying to contain China’s economic and political rise.
Beijing is trying to rebuild relations with Europe after the outcry over the Chinese ambassador’s comment that the former Soviet republics may not be sovereign states. This group includes Ukraine, as well as current EU members: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, traveled to Beijing and asked for help on the Ukraine issue, highlighting the challenges Washington faces in rallying its allies to counter China’s assertive policies abroad.
According to Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Drive a wedge between the US and European partners is an important goal. To do this, China needs to pretend that it is an active peacekeeping force.”
Political scientists do not see much chance for progress. It is believed that Ukraine is preparing a new offensive to return the territories occupied by Russia.
“[Before the settlement], perhaps, there are still years, even decades, because there are still huge distances between the positions of Russia and Ukraine,” Gabuev said.