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Zelenskyy accuses China of helping Russia undermine peace summit

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during the 21st Shangri-La Dialogue summit at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore, Sunday, June 2, 2024.
Vincent Thian/AP
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AP
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during the 21st Shangri-La Dialogue summit at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore, Sunday, June 2, 2024.

SINGAPORE – Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused China of helping Russia in “actively blocking” countries from participating in this month’s peace conference in Switzerland, to which Ukraine says 106 countries have so far confirmed their attendance.

“Russia is using Chinese influence on their region, using Chinese diplomats, to do everything to disrupt the peace summit. Unfortunately, a big, independent country like China is being used as a tool by Russia,” Zelenskyy told reporters Sunday, on the sidelines of the Shangri-La security dialogue in Singapore, where he pleaded for Asian nations to show their support to Ukraine.

Zelenskyy said he had not been able to meet with Chinese officials while in Singapore, where the Chinese defense chief is also present for a security forum.

“We need the support of Asian countries,” Zelenskyy said. “We want Asia to know what’s going on in Ukraine… in order to end the war.”

Zelenskyy also alleged that Ukrainian intelligence had found evidence that some Russian weapons contained Chinese components. “Today there are various signals from intelligence, including Ukrainian intelligence, that somehow, some way, something comes to Russia’s markets via China,” he said.

And he warned that “with China’s support for Russia, the war will last longer…That is bad for the whole world, and it is also not good for China, which declares that it supports sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Beijing has not responded to Zelenskyy’s comments.

American officials have repeatedly alleged that China is supporting Russia’s defense industrial base, even if there is no evidence it is directly supplying weapons. China has denied the accusations.

“China rejects comments that smear and scapegoat China on the Ukraine issue. China handles the export of military products prudently and responsibly and strictly controls the export of dual-use articles,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters in May. “Shifting the blame to China does not solve the crisis.”

China’s foreign ministry last week said it would be “difficult” to attend the peace conference if Russia remained banned from attending. "What is the purpose of such a conference if the major warring party did not attend? It would just become a PR effort," said former Senior Col. Zhou Bo, who is now a senior fellow researching security at Tsinghua University in Beijing. "This is one-sided right from the beginning."

Speaking at Sunday’s Shangri-La security dialogue, which is organized by the think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies, China’s defense minister, Dong Jun, on Sunday said Beijing has been “promoting peace talks with a responsible attitude.” He did not mention the Swiss conference.

The US has confirmed a high-level delegation will attend the peace forum, but it’s unclear whether President Biden will go.

Before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Ukraine’s biggest trading partner had been with China. Zelenskyy said that trade relationship had cratered due to a Russian blockade of shipping routes in the Black Sea.

Zelenskyy and China’s leader Xi Jinpinghad a phone callin April 2023, and since then, the Ukrainian president said he had repeatedly asked, unsuccessfully, for an in-person meeting. “Ukraine doesn’t have connections to China, because China does not want it,” Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine and China had issues they could collaborate on, namely maintaining nuclear security and working to secure food security: “It would be of great benefit if China helped solve these two issues.”

In May, Russian President Vladimir Putin conducted a two-day visit to China, releasing a joint statement significantly deepening military cooperation between Russia and China,  as well as emphasizing his own personal relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Soon before he left China, Putin said an “emerging multipolar world ... is now taking shape before our eyes.”

Copyright 2024 NPR

Vincent Ni
Vincent Ni is the Asia Editor at NPR, where he leads a team of Asia-based correspondents whose reporting spans from Afghanistan to Japan, and across all NPR platforms.
Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.