Xi calls on world powers to help Russia, Ukraine 'resume direct dialogue'

Orban was greeted at the airport by Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (Handout)
Orban was greeted at the airport by Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (Handout)

Chinese President Xi Jinping told Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday that world powers should help Russia and Ukraine re-start direct negotiations during a visit to Beijing branded a "peace mission" by the European leader.

Orban's trip to China comes a day before NATO is due to hold a summit to mark its 75th anniversary, with setbacks in Ukraine expected to dominate discussions, and follows surprise visits by the Hungarian premier to Russia and Ukraine in the past week.

The United States said it was concerned by the meeting between Orban and Xi, with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby saying the trip "certainly doesn't seem to be productive in terms of trying to get things done in Ukraine".

China has refused to condemn Russia's invasion and last year released a paper calling for a "political settlement" to the conflict, which Western countries said could enable Russia to retain much of the territory it has seized in Ukraine.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV quoted Xi as saying the "international community should create conditions and provide assistance for the two sides to resume direct dialogue and negotiations".

"Only when all major powers exert positive energy rather than negative energy can the dawn of a ceasefire in this conflict appear as soon as possible," Xi told Orban, according to CCTV.

CCTV said in a readout: "Xi Jinping stressed that it is in the interests of all parties to cease fire and seek a political solution as soon as possible."

Following the talks, Orban wrote on social media platform X that China was "a key power in creating the conditions for peace" in the Russia-Ukraine war.

"This is why I came to meet with President Xi in Beijing, just two months after his official visit to Budapest," he said.

Orban -- who said his unannounced trip to Beijing was a "Peace mission 3.0" -- wrote on his Instagram page he would be heading to Washington after Beijing.

- EU presidency -

Orban, the friendliest EU leader towards Moscow, held talks on Friday with President Vladimir Putin, who said Ukraine must withdraw its troops from regions that Russia has annexed if it wants peace.

Hungary took over the European Union's rotating presidency at the start of July, and the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Orban's trip to Russia was purely a bilateral affair and he "has not received any mandate from the EU Council to visit Moscow".

Kyiv's foreign ministry said Orban's visit to Russia was made "without any agreement or coordination with Ukraine".

Close to both Xi and the Kremlin, Orban has refused to send weapons to Kyiv, unlike his fellow EU leaders.

China and Russia's strategic partnership has grown closer since the invasion of Ukraine.

Beijing presents itself as a neutral party in the war and says it is not sending lethal assistance to either side, unlike the United States and other Western nations.

It has however offered a critical lifeline to Russia's isolated economy, with trade booming since the conflict began.

- Major investment -

Xi visited Hungary in May this year, for the final leg of a European tour that also took him to France and Serbia.

Following a meeting then with Orban, Xi said Beijing placed "great importance" on its relations with the EU.

Despite its small size, the Central European country of 9.6 million people has attracted a flood of major Chinese projects in recent years, mostly related to battery and electric vehicle manufacturing.

The Hungarian government boasted about having around 15 billion euros ($16 billion) worth of ongoing projects originating from the Asian country.

Orban has been championing an "Eastern opening" foreign policy since his return to power in 2010, seeking closer economic ties to China, Russia and other Asian countries.

Last October, the Hungarian premier was the sole EU leader to attend the summit for Xi's flagship Belt and Road initiative in Beijing.