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Ukraine tries to rally support in the Asia Pacific for a peace conference


Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was in Singapore over the weekend, trying to rally support for a global peace conference he's organizing in Switzerland. But one powerful Asian country is likely not attending, and that's China. NPR's Emily Feng was in Singapore, as well, following all of this. Emily, Zelenskyy wants countries in Asia to attend a Swiss peace conference, but he called out China in particular. What did he say?

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: He came up pretty strongly against China. He was in Singapore for this defense summit over the weekend, and his words were a pretty big contrast when you consider China was once Ukraine's biggest trading partner before Russia's full-scale invasion two years ago. So Zelenskyy said he'd been unable to get a meeting with Chinese officials who were in Singapore. China says it's neutral on this war. But then Zelenskyy alleged this - he said, quote, "Russia using Chinese influence in the region is using Chinese diplomats and does everything it can to disrupt the peace summit." And he said, this is unfortunate, that such a, quote, "big, independent, powerful country as China is an instrument in the hands of Vladimir Putin," Russia's leader. Zelenskyy also said China was helping to block other countries from attending the summit, though he did not offer details on exactly how.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. OK. So how did China respond, then?

FENG: China's foreign ministry today totally denied this. They said they were an impartial party to this conflict, but they've already signaled they are not going to come to the peace summit because Russia is not invited. And I asked several Chinese military officials at this defense summit about why. One said they felt without Russia, the summit just felt like this one- sided exercise to rile up international politics. And here's another official, Senior Colonel Zhang Chi, who teaches at the Military National Defense College in Beijing.

ZHANG CHI: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: He says China has put forth numerous peace proposals, but it is the U.S. and other large countries that are provoking and fanning the flames of more tension. Now, many countries would disagree with this, but it shows how even with conflicts happening far away from Asia, in the Middle East and Ukraine and Russia, Asian countries, where I'm based, feel impacted, and they're being called on to choose a side, including in the U.S.-China rivalry that runs through many of these conflicts.

MARTÍNEZ: And I understand the issue of Taiwan came up quite a bit during this security conference this weekend as well, and China's defense minister spoke out very strongly against international support for Taiwan.

FENG: Yes. So China just had these big military drills around Taiwan and China's defense minister delivered an address condemning all of Taiwan's leadership, warning that China was prepared to act if, per its account, there is what he calls more foreign interference encouraging Taiwanese independence. But China was also trying to turn down the temperature. And Chinese military officials at this defense summit I was at said they thought his pretty fiery speech was actually a signal that China does not want to fight over Taiwan. Here's Major General Xu Hui, who is president of the International Defense Studies Department at China's National Defense University.

XU HUI: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: So Xu says to maintain the one China principle, that basically Taiwan is part of China - that's the only way East Asian peace can be maintained. And they would like to see the U.S.' behavior match its rhetoric. But the problem is, these are demands that are mostly unacceptable to Taiwanese society. So there's a high likelihood tensions are only going to worsen rather than calm down.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Emily Feng. Thanks a lot, Emily.

FENG: Thanks, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.