Biden reaches out to Chinese President Xi on relations with Russia over Ukraine

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden warned Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday of the consequences he would face if he aided Russia in its invasion of neighboring Ukraine, the White House said.

In a nearly two-hour video call, Biden “outlined the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it carries out brutal attacks on Ukrainian cities and civilians.”

The two leaders engaged in what China described as a “frank and in-depth” discussion as their countries navigated thorny political and economic differences over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The leaders of the world’s two largest economies last met virtually in November and the call ended shortly before 11 a.m.

“This is an opportunity for President Biden to assess President Xi’s position,” Psaki said. There has been an “absence of denunciation by China of what Russia is doing”, which, she added, “says a lot” to the whole world.

The Biden administration has made clear to Beijing its “deep concerns” about any alignment with Russia, she said, adding that reports that China may be supplying Russia with military hardware are “very concerning.” “.

China issued a statement after the call through its foreign ministry that did not appear to signal a change in position.

Although he called on the United States and NATO to engage with Russia to “resolve the crux of the Ukraine crisis”, he made no mention of the efforts Beijing could make to achieve peace in Ukraine. . He denounced “the Ukrainian crisis”, but avoided the words “war” or “invasion”. He said China is willing to provide additional humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

With the invasion in its fourth week, China’s efforts to displease neither Russia nor the West look increasingly untenable, some experts say, as pressure mounts on Beijing to use its influence on Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s economic ties with Russia to force a ceasefire. -Fire. Biden is expected to pressure Xi to persuade Putin to end the attack.

Beijing is in a difficult position, said David Shullman, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub. “This war is a massive disruption at a terrible time for China,” he said. “Beijing doesn’t know how it’s going to end. . . . They don’t see an opportunity at the moment – they’re at an impasse and trying to navigate it.

Earlier this week, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had an “intense” and “frank” seven-hour meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Rome over the potential consequences of any aid Beijing might provide to Moscow.

“We are concerned,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday, “that they are planning to help Russia directly with military equipment for use in Ukraine.” He issued an explicit warning to China, saying “we will not hesitate to impose costs” if Beijing backs Russia’s aggression.

“We believe China in particular has a responsibility to use its influence with President Putin and uphold the international rules and principles that it claims to support,” Blinken said. “Instead, it appears China is moving in the opposite direction by refusing to condemn this aggression while seeking to present itself as a neutral arbiter.”

China has struggled to find a balance between maintaining its “limitless” strategic alliance with Russia – as the two sides described the partnership in February – and safeguarding its relations with Western countries. Beijing’s silence amid overwhelming international condemnation of the invasion has prompted critics to label China an accomplice to the Kremlin’s actions.

Colliding with the United States and the West could come at significant costs for Beijing, which is already in a difficult position. Its stock market slumped to a 21-month low this week, gasoline prices are soaring and covid cases are prompting new lockdowns across the country.

In its statement, China took aim at the idea of ​​new sanctions. “By implementing comprehensive and indiscriminate sanctions, it is ordinary people who suffer,” the statement said. “If further improved, it will also trigger serious crises in the global economy, trade, finance, energy, food, industrial chain and supply chain, further worsening the global economy. already difficult and causing irreparable losses.”

In recent weeks, Chinese officials have changed their tune, moving away slightly from Moscow. While media and state statements fail to describe Russia’s actions as an ‘invasion’, Xi called the conflict a ‘war’ for the first time in an interview with his German and French counterparts last week. last, and the Chinese Ambassador to the United States wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post that “[h]If China knew about the impending crisis, we would have done our best to prevent it.

However, for the most part, China’s position appears unchanged. In official comments and Chinese state media op-eds published ahead of the call, Beijing signaled no willingness to change its stance of avowed neutrality – neither condoning nor condoning Russia’s actions, while supporting Moscow’s assertions about security issues and blaming the US and NATO for the crisis.

“Both sides want to make sure the other side has no doubts about its own firm stance,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University, who said he doesn’t think the call would have a “major positive impact” on U.S.-China relations.

“Beijing and Washington will understand each other’s positions. All these realizations will further harden the confrontation between the two countries,” he added.

Referring to China’s behavior since the start of the conflict, Psaki pointed to the country’s abstention from UN Security Council votes on the war and its echo of unsubstantiated allegations by US biochemical labs in Ukraine. “It’s a question of where you want to be as the history books are written,” she said, prompting Chinese officials to retaliate quickly.

“The assertion that China is on the wrong side of history is overwhelming. It is the United States that is on the wrong side of history,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying tweeted.

Hua said that if the United States had “repeatedly refrained from expanding NATO and promised that NATO would not admit Ukraine, and did not fan the flames by providing weapons and ammunition to Ukraine, the situation would have been very different”. She added that many countries were drawing their own “independent conclusions” about the conflict.

Ahead of the meeting, the state-run Global Times, citing an unnamed Chinese government official, said Beijing had agreed to the meeting, initiated by the White House, out of consideration for bilateral relations and a desire “to urge the United States to take the right position.Psaki said the call was “mutually agreed”.

A promise from Xi that China would not violate international sanctions on Russia would be a win for Biden. But observers say that although Chinese companies have largely complied with the sanctions, China is unlikely to offer such a promise.

“The appeal is unlikely to produce substantial changes in China’s position,” said Amanda Hsiao, senior China analyst at the International Crisis Group. “It won’t pressure Moscow for a settlement or openly support sanctions because Beijing likely calculates that its relationship with Washington won’t improve even if it does.”

Topics other than Ukraine will also be on the table, Psaki said. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that the Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong crossed the Taiwan Strait, a provocative move just before the call.

Beijing says democratic Taiwan, a US ally on heightened alert since the Ukraine crisis, is part of its territory and has promised to seize it by force if necessary.

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Eva Dou, Cate Cadell and Reis Thebault in Washington contributed to this report.