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China is 'always on the side of peace' Xi tells Zelenskyy in first phone call

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the audience before an Iftar dinner celebrating Islam's holy month of Ramadan in a Muslim center outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Frida
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the audience before an Iftar dinner celebrating Islam's holy month of Ramadan in a Muslim center outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Frida Copyright Efrem Lukatsky/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Efrem Lukatsky/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Euronews with AFP
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This was the first time the two leaders have spoken since the start of the Russian invasion on 24 February 2022.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has had his first phone call since the start of the war with Xi Jinping, where the Chinese leader assured his Ukrainian counterpart that "China has always been on the side of peace" and called for "negotiation".

"On the subject of the Ukrainian crisis, China has always been on the side of peace and its basic position is to promote a peace dialogue," China's CCTV state media reported. 

"Dialogue and negotiation" are the "only way out" of the conflict with Russia, Xi said, according to CCTV.

For his part, Zelenskyy said he had a "long and significant" call with his Chinese counterpart, and said he hoped for "a powerful push in the development of bilateral relations" between Kyiv and Beijing.

This is the first known exchange between the two men since the war in Ukraine began on 24 February 2022. Their last call was in July 2021.

Zelenskyy said in February that it was "necessary" to work with China towards a resolution of the conflict with Russia. 

In March, Zelenskyy reiterated his wish for dialogue with his Chinese counterpart, and said he would "wait for an answer" from Xi. 

China published a 12-point document in February setting out its position on the conflict in Ukraine. The initiative, sometimes seen as a peace plan, urges Moscow and Kyiv to hold talks.

The document also opposes any use of nuclear weapons and calls on all parties to respect the territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine. 

Beijing did not recognise Mr Putin's move last September to declare four territories in Ukraine's Donbas region part of the Russian Federation, nor did it do so in 2014 when Crimea was annexed.

The Russian government responded to the document politely but without enthusiasm. “Any effort that helps to bring this conflict to a peaceful path deserves attention. We consider the plan of our Chinese friends with great attention,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“At the moment, we do not see the premises for this matter to take a peaceful path.”

For all that it has tried to position itself as a potential peace broker, China still has not publicly condemned the war in Ukraine and has greatly increased its political and economic cooperation with Russia in recent months.

Just last week, defence minister Li Shangfu visited Mr Putin in person, hailing a “new era” in relations between the two countries and “go beyond the military-political alliances of the Cold War era”.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recently warned that were China to begin providing military equipment to Russia, the Chinese-EU relationship would be severely damaged.

“I want to be very clear,” she said on a visit to Beijing earlier this month, “that arming the aggressor is a clear violation of international law.

“It's the aggressor and he should never be armed. And this would indeed significantly harm the relationship between the European Union and China.”

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