Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent remarks welcoming a possible role for Chinese mediation in the Russia–Ukraine war come as a pleasant surprise. Together with other recent positive indications, like the just-concluded two-day meeting in Vienna between U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, this could presage a major shift from the Biden administration away from confrontation with China — and if such a shift materializes, a more constructive U.S.–China relationship could become the foundation stone for peace in Ukraine.
Yet significant doubts remain that the administration will prove capable of the flexibility required toward its proclaimed adversaries to make good on this opening.
When China first issued its principles for peace in Ukraine in February, the Biden administration — and Blinken himself — dismissed the move as providing cover for Russia, saying that China has no credibility because it has not condemned Russia’s invasion. The disdain the administration poured on China’s efforts followed a drumbeat of warnings from top Biden officials that China was considering providing lethal support to Russia — warnings that may have been motivated by a desire to discredit China’s pretensions to neutrality, since the administration admitted there wasn’t “any indication” of such a decision in the offing.
China’s public comments on a peace process for Ukraine have indeed been insubstantial, carefully pitched as platitudes rather than facing the enormous difficulties of the situation, and China’s posture in the conflict has clearly favored Russia. Yet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded in quite a different fashion than Biden, cautiously welcoming Beijing’s efforts and endorsing parts of its stated peace principles.
Read the full piece in Responsible Statecraft.