Patten believes China's ambitions towards Taiwan are fraught given Russia's difficulties after invading Ukraine
SPUTNIK via AFP / Alexei Druzhinin


  • Chinese Foreign Ministry said Li Hui is poised to travel to Ukraine to find a settlement to end the conflict
  • Li Hui served as China's ambassador to Russia for 10 years and is widely known as a Russophile
  • A Biden admin official is skeptical over China's ability as a peace negotiator despite ties with Russia

China's special representative to end the war in Ukraine has received skepticism over its pro-Russian background.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that its senior diplomat Li Hui was tasked to bring Ukraine and Russia to the negotiating table.

Li is expected to "travel to Ukraine and other countries for in-depth communications with different parties for a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis," the Ministry said, the South China Morning Post reported.

However, before his appointment to mediate in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, Li served as China's former ambassador to Moscow from 2009 to 2019.

Li, also known as a Russophile and fluent in Russian, received a "Medal of Friendship" from President Vladimir Putin in May 2019.

According to the Chinese state-run China Daily, Putin bestowed the award to Li for his "contribution to strengthening friendship and cooperation" between China and Russia.

Li also wrote a newspaper article for the Russian Foreign Ministry in 2016, stating that China needs a "powerful Russia." The Chinese diplomat also composed an essay for the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs, emphasizing China and Russia's "shoulder-by-shoulder" relationship.

"The two sides will, as always, show firm support for each other's efforts to uphold one's own sovereignty, security, territorial integrity and other core interests," Li wrote in 2020.

Alexey Maslov, the director of the Institute of Asian and African Studies at Moscow State University, said Li could use his vast Russian knowledge to bring the two warring nations to the negotiating table.

"Moscow will not be worried because he really understands Russian politics," Maslov said.

Maslov, who said he had known the Chinese diplomat personally for 10 years, revealed that Li enjoys reading published works of notable Russian writers, such as Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

"He really understands the Russian soul, he understands the Russian psychology, the Russian mentality," Maslov said, NBC News reported.

But Li's appointment "doesn't help bridge that gap" in trust between Ukraine and China, according to Michael Horowitz, the head of intelligence at Bahrain-based Le Beck International.

Horowitz said China is playing a "long game" in brokering peace between Ukraine and China.

Meanwhile, an unnamed Biden administration official is skeptical of China's ability to set aside its biases toward Russia.

"They haven't condemned the invasion, they are still buying Russian oil at bonus prices for Putin, they're still sending dual-use items although not lethal aid, they have to show they can be a real arbiter," the official said.

Michele Geraci, a professor at the University of Nottingham in the U.K., argued that skepticism from Ukraine and its Western allies should always be expected.

Geraci called Li China's pragmatic choice, adding that he is capable of negotiating with Ukraine despite having a Russian background.

Illustration picture of China and Russia flags