11 July 2024

Singapore – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused China on Sunday of working hard to stop countries from going to a peace summit, which Beijing has publicly criticised because Russia is not invited.

Zelensky made the remarks at a security forum in Singapore as he sought to rally support for the conference and appealed for more military aid for Ukraine, which has been ceding ground to Russian troops.

“China, unfortunately, is working hard today to prevent countries from coming to the peace summit,” Zelensky told reporters on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue, which draws defence officials from around the world.

Beijing believes the conference “should have the recognition of Russia and Ukraine, equal participation of all parties and fair discussion of all peace plans”, foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told a regular news conference on Friday.

“Otherwise, it is difficult for the conference to play a substantive role in restoring peace,” she said.

Zelensky also expressed disappointment that “some world leaders” had not signed up to the conference, with China signalling Xi Jinping will not attend while US President Joe Biden is yet to commit.

China said it would be “difficult” for it to attend if Russia did not participate, which Ukraine has rejected.

Through the peace summit, Kyiv hopes to win broad international backing for its vision of the terms needed to end Russia’s war.

Zelensky said on Sunday that more than 100 countries and organisations had signed up to the conference, and he urged Asia-Pacific nations to join.

The peace summit threatens to be overshadowed if key Ukraine backer Biden — who is locked in an election campaign against Donald Trump and has given no sign he would participate — ultimately stays away.

Zelensky said China was “a tool in Putin’s hands” and accused Russia of using Chinese influence and diplomats to do “everything to disrupt the peace summit.”

While China says it is a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict, it has been criticised for refusing to condemn Moscow for its offensive.

– ‘Unwavering US support’ –

Zelensky also met with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday on the sidelines of the Singapore security forum. Zelensky told reporters they had a “very good” meeting.

In a post on X, Zelensky said the pair discussed “the defense needs of our country, bolstering Ukraine’s air defense system, the F-16 coalition, and drafting of a bilateral security agreement.”

\In a readout of the talks, Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder said Austin reiterated “unwavering US support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression”.

Austin also “reaffirmed the US commitment to maintaining the strong support of a coalition of over fifty countries to help Ukraine defend its freedom,” Ryder said.

The meeting came after Washington decided to partially lift restrictions on using US-provided weapons to strike inside Russia, which Zelensky has hailed as a “step forward”.

Zelensky and Austin last met face-to-face in December in Washington, where Zelensky made a last-ditch plea for US aid before it ran out.

The US Congress approved in April a $61-billion aid package for Ukraine following months of political wrangling, unlocking much-needed arms for the country’s outgunned troops.

Chinese defence spokesman Wu Qian told AFP he was not aware of any plans for Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun to meet with Zelensky in Singapore.

Ukraine is struggling to hold back a Russian ground offensive in the Kharkiv region, where Moscow recently made its largest territorial gains in 18 months.

Zelensky has been touring European nations in recent days seeking more military aid for Ukrainian troops, and warning partners of the risks if they show any signs of fatigue over the war.

“It is very important for Ukrainians that the world does not get tired… that the world understands that it cannot get tired of the war launched by the aggressor,” Zelensky said in Portugal on Tuesday.

Story by Agence France-Presse
Photo : Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during the 21st Shangri-La Dialogue summit at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore on June 2.//AFP