Amid heightened tensions surrounding Taiwan, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Wednesday stressed the importance of Chinese neutrality over the war in his country as Russia finds itself increasingly isolated by the West.
“I would like China to join the unified world position on the tyranny of Russia against Ukraine,” Mr. Zelensky said during a meeting with thousands of students organized by the Australian National University. “As for now, China is balancing and indeed has neutrality. I will be honest: This neutrality is better than if China would join Russia.”
Mr. Zelensky said in an interview with the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper, that he would like to speak with China’s leader, Xi Jinping. “I had one conversation with Xi Jinping that was a year ago,” he said in the interview, published Thursday. “Since the beginning of the large-scale aggression on Feb. 24, we have asked officially for a conversation.”
Reflecting the delicacy of the moment, Ukrainian officials have been largely silent on the high-stakes visit this week of Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan. The Kremlin on Tuesday said her visit to Taiwan “provokes the situation” over the island.
The U.S. secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, pressed China last month to join the United States, which is trying to assemble a global effort to punish Moscow for its aggression in Ukraine, and “stand up” against Russia’s war. In response, the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, said that Beijing was neutral and criticized the United States for what he called “China phobia” and policies that offered “a dead end.”
From the outset of the war, Washington was able, with the threat of heavy sanctions, to dissuade China from providing weapons and economic assistance to Russia. China claims it is neutral because it has refrained from such explicit support.
In the South China Morning Post interview, Mr. Zelensky suggested that China could use its economic heft to counter Russia. “I’m confident, I’m sure that without the Chinese market for the Russian Federation, Russia would be feeling complete economic isolation,” he said.
Mr. Zelensky’s remarks at the Australian National University event came in response to a student’s question, and he offered a nuanced answer that recognized the geopolitical realities of the moment.
His government, he said, works tirelessly to persuade nations around the world to come together to isolate Russia. “Every day Russia loses more allies,” he said. But each nation, he said, makes its own calculations.
“I believe the people of China will make a prudent choice,” he said. “It’s important for us that China will not help Russia.”
He made the same appeal to the students that he has to leaders from around the world over the past five months — pointing to the atrocities committed by Russian forces and asking what would become of the world order if Moscow succeeded in imposing its will on a sovereign nation through brute force.
When asked by a student what has been the hardest part of leading a nation at war, Mr. Zelensky said it was understanding what people are capable of doing — both the heroism of those defending their homes, he said, and the horrors visited upon them by the invading army.
“I never thought that people are capable of those things,” he said.