Phone call diplomacy seeks to calm Crimea crisis

Updated: 2014-03-11 07:28

By Zhang Yunbi and Qin Jize (China Daily USA)

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Beijing is open to any constructive proposal or suggestion that can help ease tensions in Ukraine, President Xi Jinping told his US counterpart Barack Obama on Monday in a phone call on the crisis.

Xi called for all parties concerned to remain calm and exercise restraint.

Heads of state have been engaging in "telephone diplomacy" to exchange views on the increasing tensions in Crimea.

"China takes an objective and fair position on the Ukraine issue", Xi said, adding that the situation is of "great complexity".

He urged the parties involved to eliminate differences through dialogue and to seek a political settlement.

Yang Cheng, deputy director of the Center for Russian Studies at East China Normal University in Shanghai, said Beijing's expression of openness to any constructive proposal is a "positive, facilitating gesture" that comes along with its prudence on the issue".

"It is inclusive. ... The message is that China is ... trying to play a proactive role," Yang said.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn, a US expert on China studies and chairman of The Kuhn Foundation, which promotes good relations between the United States and China, said, "China has good relations with both Ukraine and Russia, with substantial economic interests in each.

"Considering China's overarching geo-strategic position, to call for peaceful resolution, however aphoristic and ambiguous in the current situation, would seem the least bad option," Kuhn said.

Obama briefed Xi on Washington's position on the issue, with Xi expressing Beijing's willingness to strengthen bilateral contacts and communication.

As part of the latest bilateral efforts to upgrade information, State Counselor Yang Jiechi called US National Security Adviser Susan Rice last week and urged that there should be no further escalation of the crisis.

Xi spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 4, saying that China believed that Russia could coordinate with other parties in pushing for a political settlement.

Speaking to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday, Xi said Beijing is following the situation in Ukraine closely and welcomes constructive international mediation efforts.

Merkel also had phone talks with Putin on Sunday, stressing the urgency of setting up an international contact group to help find a political solution to the conflict in Ukraine.

Yang Cheng said, "Such a high frequency of telephone diplomacy has shown the desperation of major world powers to seek a major improvement or a turnaround before the referendum in Crimea."

Tensions are simmering after the Crimean parliament voted on Thursday to join Russia. The referendum on Crimea's status is scheduled for Sunday.

Western countries will not be happy if the poll result is overwhelmingly in favor of Crimea integrating with Russia, and Moscow may face greater pressure and sanctions from the West, Yang added.

Feng Yujun, head of the Institute of Russian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said Washington has been trying to intervene, but "the game" being played by the major powers is certain to continue.

Sun Zhuangzhi, a senior researcher of Russian and Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Moscow is unlikely to make significant concessions because of its strategic interests in Ukraine.

So far, sanctions imposed by Europe have been limited, with some items on the list scrapped because Russia is an important energy provider to several nations, Sun said.

During Monday's phone conversation, Obama also expressed condolences for the deaths of Chinese civilians in the terrorist attack in Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, on March 1.

He said the US opposes all forms of terrorism and stands ready to cooperate with China in the anti-terror fight.

Xi said terrorism is the common enemy of people, adding that China is prepared to work with the international community, including the US, to combat terrorism in all forms.

Obama said his wife, Michelle, is looking forward to visiting China from March 19 to 26.

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(China Daily USA 03/11/2014 page1)