WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 assistance military or economic to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
China’s Foreign Ministry was the first to release a reading of the video chat, lamenting “conflict and confrontation” as “not in anyone’s interest”, without blaming Russia.
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 spokesman Chunying Hua hit back, calling the Biden administration’s suggestions “authoritarian” that China risks falling on the wrong side of history in the conflict.
Planning for the call 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 Ukraine should be the center of the call.
China also sought Friday to highlight its calls for negotiations and humanitarian aid donations, while accusing the United States of provoking Russia and fueling the conflict by shipping weapons to Ukraine.
In an attempt to show international support for China’s position, state broadcaster CCTV said Xi had discussed Ukraine in phone calls with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun. Sen, adding that the leaders’ opinions 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 criticizing Moscow. At other times, Beijing’s actions have been provocative and have included amplifying unverified Russian claims that Ukraine was running 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 to Russia. 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 about its support for Russia. 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 Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi met in Rome earlier this week for an intense seven-hour conversation about the Russian invasion and… other questions.
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. During Putin’s visit, the two leaders issued a 5,000-word statement declaring unlimited “friendship”.
Leaders in Beijing would like to support Russia, but 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 being formulated”, the official added.
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.
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, the Taiwanese ministry said. of the 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”.
“The national army’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems are in full control of the movements of Chinese ships in the sea and aircraft in the airspace around the Taiwan Strait to safeguard national security,” it said. the ministry in a statement.
Zhao said he had no details about the ship’s passage through the strait, but added that “I think the carrier has its routine training program and should not be related to communication. between Chinese and American leaders.