Biden warns China's Xi of consequences for support of Russian invasion

The warning follows reports that Moscow had asked Beijing for assistance, including supplies.
By Qiao Long and Chingman
2022.03.18
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US President Joe Biden meets with China's President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, Nov. 15, 2021.
AFP

UPDATED at 9:17 P.M. ET on 2022-03-18

U.S. President Joe Biden warned Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday that Beijing will face serious consequences if it offers support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, according to White House officials.

During a two-hour video call, Xi told Biden that China has no interest in a crisis in Ukraine and said talks should take place between NATO countries and Moscow to address the concerns of all stakeholders, according to Chinese state media reports. No mention was made by the Chinese leader of Russia's role in sparking the conflict.

But senior Biden administration officials later described the call as more "direct," and told reporters that the two leaders "spent the preponderance of their time discussing Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine.” The officials said Biden made clear to Xi that Beijing's support for Moscow in the conflict would have consequences for U.S.-China relations and the "international order," without providing details.

Earlier, China's official Xinhua news agency reported that Xi told Biden Beijing does not want a war in Ukraine and that as the leaders of permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the world's two largest economies, they must work together to ensure global security.

"The Ukraine crisis is not something we want to see," Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

"We must not only guide the China-U.S. relations forward along the right track, but also shoulder our share of international responsibilities and work for world peace and tranquility."

A statement issued by China's Foreign Ministry said that Xi called on all stakeholders to "jointly support Russia and Ukraine in having dialogue and negotiation that will produce results and lead to peace."

He also urged the U.S. and other NATO countries to hold a dialogue with Russia "to address the crux of the Ukraine crisis and ease the security concerns of both Russia and Ukraine."

In the meantime, Xi said China will continue to provide aid to Ukraine to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

Russian request for aid

Biden had been expected to urge Xi not to aid Russia in its war in Ukraine during the phone call, according to Foreign Policy magazine, following a number of news reports citing U.S. officials as saying that Moscow had asked Beijing for assistance, including supplies of military food rations.

"[The conversation] will make clear that China will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia’s aggression, and we will not hesitate to impose costs," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.

On Thursday, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian defended China's stance on Ukraine as "upright, fair and objective, and beyond reproach."

"The countries that should really be feeling uncomfortable are those that think they have won the Cold War and can dominate the rest of the world ... those countries that continued to promote NATO's eastward expansion despite concerns of other countries ... those countries that start wars everywhere but call other countries warmongers," he told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

Zhao, a proponent of China's more outspoken brand of "wolf warrior" diplomacy, went on to ridicule international sanctions against Russia.

"I heard that Russian cats, Russian dogs, and Russian trees will be sanctioned," he said. "I also heard that Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake has been banned. Tchaikovsky ... has been dead for more than 100 years. What can he be guilty of?"

Ahead of the call Xinhua said that Xi would "exchange views with U.S. President Joe Biden on China-U.S. relations and issues of mutual concern" on Friday evening Beijing time.

'Expert' views on China's position

Xinhua meanwhile cited "experts" from France, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, India, Uzbekistan, Kenya, Iran, Namibia, Egypt and Pakistan as supporting China's position on the Ukraine war.

China has declined to refer to the war as an invasion, says it supports peace talks and a diplomatic solution, and rejects media reports suggesting it may assist the Russians.

The Xinhua article quoted Liazid Benhami, vice-chairman of the Paris-France-China Friendship Association — which is under the aegis of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s United Front Work Department — as saying that CCP leader Xi Jinping has demonstrated China's responsible role as a major power, and believes that China will play an active role alongside the international community on the situation in Ukraine.

Sun Kai, a former reporter with a Beijing-based newspaper, said he had never heard of any of the "experts" cited by Xinhua.

"These people are not particularly famous," Sun told RFA. "They will always look for people who are pro-China, and if they can't find any, they sometimes make up institutions and names that nobody has ever heard of before."

"It's fake," he said.

Stance remains ambiguous

State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to speculate on China's response to U.S. concerns during a press briefing on March 16, but said Washington remained keen to keep open the channels of communication with Beijing.

"This is probably the most consequential bilateral relationship on the face of the Earth," Price said. "It is incumbent upon us as a responsible country to see to it that the competition that characterizes our relationship doesn’t veer into the realm of conflict."

But he said Beijing had been notably absent from the international chorus of condemnation of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"We've yet to see ... that sort of unambiguous statement from [China]," Price said, warning that any effort to compensate Russia for financial losses under international sanctions would "cost" China.

Hours ahead of the presidential call, the Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong sailed through the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan's defense ministry said on Friday.

Taiwan has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), nor formed part of the People's Republic of China, but Beijing hasn't ruled out invading the democratic country by force to achieve what it terms "unification."

The carrier appeared around 30 nautical miles to the southwest of Taiwan's Kinmen Island at around 10:30 a.m. and was photographed by a passenger on a Taiwanese civilian flight, the defense ministry said.

Taiwan defense spokesman Shih Shun-wen confirmed the report, adding that the island's military had a full grasp on the activities of Chinese aircraft and vessels in the Taiwan Strait and would safeguard national security.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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