A leading China expert says the emerging superpower is facing significant challenges in stepping up their diplomatic presence.
Otago University associate professor Nicholas Khoo told Q+A with Jack Tame that China's President Xi was trying to walk a delicate line in his visit this week to Russia's President Putin.
It comes amid suggestions from US intelligence agencies that China is considering supplying weaponry to support Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
"My assessment is that the Chinese look at this situation, and they themselves do not want to get entangled in a tricky situation with the Americans," said Khoo.
"We'll see how this plays out, but if we look at it from the Chinese side this is a very precarious situation that they need to exercise a lot of wisdom and judgement on."
China is increasingly trying to position itself as a neutral broker between countries in conflict, though their record of success is mixed.
A phone call between President Xi and Ukraine's President Zelensky has not yet happened, amid rumours China wants to help bring both parties to the table.
Khoo said Xi's visit to Moscow "highlighted the fact that there's a massive tension in Chinese foreign policy, between its interests in values such as sovereignty in the international system, and its interests in a good relationship with Ukraine".
"It really is a serious problem for them – whatever decision they make, they'll find themselves facing a very difficult situation."
He noted that while China has long stated a position of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, Ukraine's sovereignty has been violated by the Russian invasion.
Khoo said that even though peace benefits everyone, China's proposed peace plan illustrated those tensions, because it does not call for Russia to withdraw from territory seized in the invasion.
Xi's visit comes hot on the heels of China brokering a normalisation of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two Middle East countries that have typically been bitter foes.
Khoo said the world should be open to China playing a more constructive and active diplomatic role.
"This would be an example of them stepping up, and contributing to peace in a contested region."
Closer to home, Khoo said New Zealand must continue to be mindful of the complex political interactions at play in our foreign policy, "so we always need to keep a very close eye on not just the China part of things... but also the traditional alliance partners" in Australia and the USA.
Q+A with Jack Tame is public interest journalism funded by NZ on Air