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After China stop, Blinken turns his attention to the war in Ukraine


It's a busy week for America's top diplomat.


Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with China's top leader, Xi Jinping, yesterday in China. You heard him on this program talking about his trip to Beijing. It was the first such visit in more than five years. Now Blinken is turning to Ukraine. He's in London today for a conference focusing on Ukraine's post-war recovery. Those talks start tomorrow.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Lauren Frayer joins us now from our London bureau. Lauren, Secretary of State Blinken told NPR yesterday that he applauds any role China can play in a peace deal for Ukraine. So how do the U.K. and other countries who will be at this conference see it?

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Some of them are wary, actually. I mean, China, as you know, has not condemned Russia. Xi Jinping has maintained ties with Vladimir Putin. On the other hand, this war is grinding on, and China, because of its ties to Russia, could be sort of uniquely placed to shake loose some kind of compromise from Putin, if Putin has any interest in ending this war at all through diplomacy, which doesn't look likely at this point. I called up a China expert. His name is Rana Mitter. He's a historian at Oxford. And he says, you know, China has actually been playing that role in other conflicts around the world.

RANA MITTER: China has gone particularly to countries which are no longer very friendly towards the United States - Iran would be a good example - and used its economic links and its long history of diplomatic connection with them to try and essentially broker agreements that lead to regional peace. Iran, Saudi Arabia is the best example of that in recent years.

FRAYER: And he says, of course, if there is a peace in Ukraine, there could be something in that for China, too.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so what might that look like?

FRAYER: A hand basically in rebuilding and the reconstruction of Ukraine. China is a construction machine. It has built infrastructure projects around the world. It relies on those projects to create jobs for Chinese workers and keep the Chinese economy afloat. Chinese workers have already built parts of the Kyiv Metro, and they want to do more projects like that. I talked to another analyst. His name is Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group. It's a risk analysis firm. And he says that a Chinese role in Ukraine actually makes the European Union pretty nervous.

MUJTABA RAHMAN: The Chinese can build political support, allegiance, connections through undertaking a massive, large-scale capital reconstruction program. And I think - so there is a lot of concern in Europe about competition with the Chinese for hearts and minds in Ukraine once the war has stopped.

FRAYER: He says basically the European Union sees Ukraine as its turf, and it doesn't want China to have a foothold there.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So then this conference in London this week is about planning for what happens if and when the war ends?

FRAYER: Yeah, basically having a plan for that moment. And to that end, the European Commission is announcing today a big package for Ukraine's medium-term recovery through 2027. The U.K., which is second only to the U.S. in terms of military aid to Ukraine, has announced a tightening of sanctions on Russia. It wants to keep Russian assets frozen, even if and when the war ends, until Moscow agrees to pay compensation to Ukraine. So Blinken and other diplomats are looking at the rebuilding of Ukraine and legal repercussions for Russia.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Lauren Frayer in London. Thanks for the info, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome. 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.

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.
Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.

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