Video call

In video call, Biden presses Chinese Xi on Russia support

Washington – Key figures in a war on the other side of the world, President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping spoke for nearly two hours on Friday as the White House sought to dissuade Beijing from providing military or economic assistance to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

China’s Foreign Ministry, in a reading after the video chat, lamented “conflict and confrontation” as “not in anyone’s interest”, but assigned no blame to Russia and did not gave no indication of next steps.

The White House said Biden had stressed to Xi the “implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it carries out brutal attacks on Ukrainian cities and civilians.”

Continued: Events of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Friday, March 18, 2022

Ahead of the call, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden would ask Xi about Beijing’s “rhetorical support” for Putin and a “lack of denunciation” of the Russian invasion.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying pushed back, calling the United States. “authoritative” of the administration for suggesting that China is in danger of falling on the wrong side of history.

Planning for the leaders’ discussion had been underway since Biden and Xi held a virtual summit in November, but differences between Washington and Beijing over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s continuation of his three-week war on the Ukraine were probably at the center of the conversation.

China also sought Friday to highlight its calls for negotiations and its humanitarian aid donations, while accusing the United States of provoking Russia and fueling the conflict by shipping weapons to Ukraine. Xi also renewed criticism of China over the sanctions imposed on Russia following the invasion, according to Chinese state media. As in the past, Xi did not use the terms war or invasion to describe Russia’s actions.

“As leaders of major countries, we must consider properly addressing global hotspot issues and, more importantly, global stability and the production and lives of billions of people,” he said.

In an attempt to show international support for China’s position, state broadcaster CCTV said Xi had also discussed Ukraine in phone calls with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Cambodian Prime Minister. Hun Sen, saying the leaders’ views were “extremely close”.

The long strained US-China relationship has only grown more strained since the start of Biden’s presidency. Biden has repeatedly criticized China for its military provocations against Taiwan, its human rights abuses against ethnic minorities and its efforts to stifle democracy advocates in Hong Kong.

But the relationship may have hit a new low with the Russian invasion.

In the days following Putin’s deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine, Xi’s government tried to distance itself from the Russian offensive, but avoided the criticism that many other nations directed at Moscow. At other times, Beijing’s actions have been provocative, including amplifying unverified Russian claims that Ukraine ran chemical and biological weapons labs with US backing.

Earlier this week, the United States informed its Asian and European allies that American intelligence had determined that China had signaled to Russia that it would be willing to provide both military support for the campaign in Ukraine. and financial support to help avoid the impact of the severe sanctions imposed. by the West.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated Thursday that the Biden administration remains concerned that China is considering supplying military hardware. He said Biden would make it clear to Xi “that China will take responsibility for any action it takes to support Russia’s aggression, and we will not hesitate to impose costs.”

The White House says China has sent mixed messages. There were early signs that China’s state-owned banks were pulling back from financing Russian activities, according to a senior Biden administration official who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal analysis. But there were also public comments from Chinese officials who expressed support for Russia as a strategic partner.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and senior China foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi met in Rome this week for an intense seven-hour conversation on the Russian invasion and other issues. .

Ahead of the Rome talks, Sullivan said the United States would not respect China or any other country helping Russia circumvent economic sanctions imposed by the United States and other allies since the Feb. 24 invasion.

Sullivan also said the administration determined that China knew Putin was “planning something” before the invasion of Ukraine, but the Chinese government “may not have understood the full extent” of what Putin had in mind.

Xi and Putin met in early February, weeks before the invasion, with the Russian leader traveling to Beijing for the start of the Winter Olympics. The two leaders released a 5,000-word statement declaring unlimited “friendship”.

Beijing’s leaders would like to support Russia, but they also recognize how badly Russian military action is going, as an outclassed Ukrainian army has put up stiff resistance, according to a Western official familiar with current intelligence assessments.

The official, who was not authorized to comment and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Beijing was weighing the potential “reputational comeback” of being associated with the Russian side. The Chinese response to Russia’s request for help is still being formulated, the official said.

Although seen as siding with Russia, China has also reached out to Ukraine, with its ambassador to the country saying on Monday: “China is a friendly country of the Ukrainian people. As Ambassador, I can say responsibly that China will always be a good force for Ukraine, both economically and politically.

“We have seen how great the unity of the Ukrainian people is, and that signifies their strength,” Fan Xianrong told regional authorities in the western city of Lviv, where the Chinese embassy has moved.

Separately, in a reminder of China’s threat to assert its claim to Taiwan by force, the Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Friday, just hours before the Biden-Xi call, said the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense.

Any dispute over self-governing island democracy will involve the United States, which is legally bound to ensure Taiwan can defend itself and treats threats to the island as matters of “grave concern”.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he had no details of the ship’s passage through the strait, but added that “I believe the carrier has its training program of routine and that it should not be related to communication between the Chinese and American leaders”.

State media quoted Xi as saying China-U.S. relations had yet to “emerge from the dilemma created by the previous U.S. administration, but were encountering more and more challenges,” citing Taiwan as one area in particular.

“If the Taiwan issue is not handled properly, it will have an impact undermining relations between the two countries,” Xi reportedly told Biden.

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Associated Press writers Jill Lawless in London and Josh Boak in Washington and AP press assistant Caroline Chen in Beijing contributed to this report.