Fluent Russian speaker Li Hui is the most senior Chinese official to visit Ukraine since Russia began its full-scale invasion in February 2022.
A top Chinese envoy is beginning a tour of Europe that will take him first to Ukraine and lastly to Russia, in a trip Beijing says is aimed at discussing a “political settlement” to the Ukraine crisis.
Li Hui, China’s special representative for Eurasian affairs since 2019 and a former ambassador to Russia, will also visit Poland, France and Germany on the multiday trip, the foreign ministry announced last week, “for in-depth communications with different parties for a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis”.
Li, a fluent Russian speaker, is the most senior Chinese official to visit Ukraine since Russia began its full-scale invasion in February 2022, and his trip could coincide with the beginnings of a long-anticipated counteroffensive by Ukraine to recapture territory seized and occupied by Russia.
The visit comes after Chinese President Xi Jinping held a phone call late last month with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the first known wartime call between the two leaders.
Zelenskyy described the hour-long call as “long and meaningful”, while Xi said China’s “core position is to promote peace via talks”.
On the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, China released a 12-point proposal for peace — China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis — that was met with some scepticism in Western capitals given Beijing’s ties with Russia. It urged “both sides” to agree to a gradual de-escalation and abandon the “Cold War mentality”.
Beijing has not explicitly condemned Moscow over the invasion, which came less than three weeks after the two countries committed to a “no limits” partnership. In March, Xi travelled to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two men signed an agreement to bring the relationship between their two countries into a “new era“.
Li has spent his entire diplomatic career dealing with the Soviet Union, Russia and the states that emerged following its fall since joining the foreign ministry’s Department of Soviet and East European Affairs in 1975.
Since the Xi-Zelenskyy call, several European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, have travelled to Beijing and urged China to play a more active role in restraining Moscow’s actions.
Kyiv has ruled out the idea of any territorial concessions to Russia and has said it wants every inch of its land back. Russia invaded and then annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014 — a move widely condemned at the time — and in September last year, announced it had annexed four other eastern Ukrainian regions.