WASHINGTON: Chinese President Xi Jinping told his counterpart Joe Biden in a video call on Friday that the war in Ukraine must end as soon as possible and called on Nato nations to hold a dialogue with Moscow, but did not assign blame to Russia for the invasion.
In the call, which lasted nearly two hours, Biden said China would pay a steep price if it directly supports Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a warning at a time of deepening acrimony between the world’s two largest economies.
Xi told Biden that conflicts and confrontations were in no one’s interests, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement. “The top priorities now are to continue dialogue and negotiations, avoid civilian casualties, prevent a humanitarian crisis, cease fighting and end the war as soon as possible,” Xi said.
He said all parties should support Russia-Ukraine dialogue and negotiations while Washington and Nato should also conduct talks with Russia to solve the “crux” of the Ukraine crisis and resolve the security concerns of both Russia and Ukraine, the statement said.
“The Ukraine crisis is something that we don’t want to see,” Chinese state media quoted Xi as saying in the call, which it said was requested by the US side.
Major nations should “respect each other, reject the Cold War mentality”, and “refrain from bloc confrontation,” the Chinese foreign ministry statement said.
Biden has been anxious to avoid a new “Cold War” with China, seeking instead to define the relationship as one of competitive coexistence, but China’s “no-limits” strategic partnership with Russia announced last month and its stance on Ukraine has called that into question.
China has refused to condemn Russia’s action in Ukraine or call it an invasion. While saying it recognises Ukraine’s sovereignty, Beijing has repeatedly said that Russia has legitimate security concerns that should be addressed and urged a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
While Biden’s administration has threatened counter-measures if China helps Russia’s Ukraine effort, it and its allies have not yet decided precisely what steps they might take, according to a person involved in the conversations.
Targeting Beijing with the sort of extensive economic sanctions imposed on Russia would have potentially dire consequences for the United States and the world, given that China is the world’s second-largest economy and the largest exporter.
Analysts say China is unlikely to turn its back on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, but its diplomatic efforts to appear even-handed are becoming harder to maintain and closeness with Moscow could cost Beijing goodwill in many world capitals.
However, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, scorned the idea of Beijing being discomfited and instead lashed out against Western counties, accusing them of stoking fears in countries like Russia.
Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2022