Diplomacy, the art of persuading friends and rivals to serve one’s interests, has occasional stars standing above other diplomats. Chinese President Xi Jinping is a ‘grand strategist, prominent in the current geopolitical realignment, and has the ability. While playing high-level diplomacy that leaves contemporaries in disarray, he avoids giving impressions of being domineering. He takes advantage of the weaknesses of other leaders, which include lack of clarity, display of contempt for the rest of the world, and attempts to force ‘regime changes’.
The contrast between Xi and the rest is vivid in the Ukrainian crisis; Xi has links with both sides. Russia and Ukraine are locked up in a survival struggle that is also personal between Vladimir Putin and Volodymir Zelensky. Ukraine and Zelensky are proxies for Washington’s desire to prove that the US is ‘back’ to lead the world. With such American allies as Saudi Arabia peeling off, Xi looks attractive as the new global peacemaker. He takes that role with confounding ‘gusto’. He leads, others agree.
Two developments display Xi’s new diplomatic skills. First was in China’s role in crafting the Iran-Saudi Arabia peace deal. Since the growing Washington hostility to Tehran and Riyadh made them attractive to each other, Xi saw an opportunity to reconcile the former American proxies in the Middle East. Having also experienced American hostility, China had common grievances with Iran and Saudi Arabia as victims of selective Western policies.
Iran and Saudi Arabia accepted China as an empathetic mediator, settled minor differences, and re-opened embassies. Like China, neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia bought the American argument about Russia in Ukraine. While not condoning ‘aggression’, they rejected provocations, using proxies, of which the West is guilty. Xi helped to rehabilitate Iran diplomatically. In the process, Xi got the credit and Biden lost face.
Second, with that success, Xi’s next diplomatic venture was Ukraine where he succeeds because he is more acceptable to all sides. Other ‘leaders’ are stuck in arming and funding Ukraine, possibly as a way of fixing Russia, before they turn their wrath on China. They repeatedly state that they see China as serious threat to their ambition for global control and then sound shrill and hollow in purporting to warn China not to deal with Russia. Xi simply ignores them in his new-found peace diplomacy.
Xi stands above the others in handling Ukraine because Moscow and Kiev welcome the idea. In inviting Xi, Zelensky indicated a desire to talk, a tacit admission that the Western camp/NATO is not capable of delivering victory. He wants respectable ceasefire to save Ukraine from additional battering. Although Xi offers that option, Zelensky is a virtual US geopolitical prisoner and has problems deciding on Ukraine without Biden’s consent.