Swiss foreign minister hopes China can 'give us a hand' in Ukraine peace talks

BEIJING (Reuters) – Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said on Wednesday he hoped China would “give us a hand” in Ukraine peace talks, after Switzerland last month agreed to host a global peace summit on Ukraine.

Ukraine said it had invited Chinese President Xi Jinping to participate in a planned “peace summit” of world leaders in Switzerland to seek ways to end the war that began when Russia sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

At the request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, neutral Switzerland has agreed to host the event, but a date and venue have yet to be set.

China maintains close ties with Russia, refraining from criticising its invasion of Ukraine, but has also said the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations must be respected and has offered to help mediate in the conflict.

Cassis, when asked at a news conference in Beijing on whether China responded to the invitation to the summit, said: “It’s a very high-level conference, we can’t expect an immediate answer.”

China’s Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a “no limits” partnership in Beijing just three weeks before Russia’s invasion nearly two years ago. Since then, China has dramatically increased its Russian energy imports.

“I’m interested in getting help from China because China has great relations with Russia,” Cassis said.

So far, China has not said if it would attend the peace summit or not.

“We will continue in our own way to promote peace talks and to push for a political settlement of the crisis,” a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said separately at a regular news conference on Wednesday.

Cassis was in China from Tuesday to Wednesday for the third round of the China-Switzerland Foreign Ministers’ Strategic Dialogue.

Last month, China and Switzerland signed a joint declaration agreeing to deepen their partnership after Premier Li Qiang met the Swiss President in Geneva.

The declaration entails the finalisation of a joint study to develop the two countries’ existing free trade agreement (FTA).

After Cassis’ meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Wednesday, Chinese state media reported that both sides had “expressed satisfaction” with the completion of the joint feasibility study for the upgrade of the FTA.

Cassis told reporters after the meeting that the upgraded FTA could be launched next year, when the two countries mark the 75th anniversary of diplomatic ties.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Ethan Wang; Additional reporting by Joe Cash in Beijing; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Ros Russell)

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