AFP file photo
WASHINGTON: Key figures for a war half a world away, US President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping spoke for nearly two hours on Friday as the White House looked to deter Beijing from providing military or economic assistance for Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
China’s foreign ministry, in a readout after the video conversation, deplored “conflict and confrontation” as “not in anyone’s interest”, but assigned no blame to Russia and gave no indication of next steps.
The White House said Biden underscored to Xi the “implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians”.
Ahead of the call, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden would question Xi about Beijing’s “rhetorical support” of Putin and an “absence of denunciation” of Russia’s invasion.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying pushed back, calling the US administration “overbearing” for suggesting that China risks falling on the wrong side of history.
Planning for the leaders’ discussion had been in the works since Biden and Xi held a virtual summit in November, but differences between Washington and Beijing over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s prosecution of his 3-week-old war against Ukraine were likely at the centre of the dialogue.
China on Friday also sought to highlight its calls for negotiations and its donations of humanitarian aid, while accusing the US of provoking Russia and fuelling the conflict by shipping arms to Ukraine. Xi also renewed China’s criticism of sanctions imposed on Russia over the invasion, according to Chinese state media.
In the days after Putin deployed Russian forces in Ukraine, Xi’s government tried to distance itself from Russia’s offensive but avoided the criticism many other nations have leveled at Moscow. At other moments, Beijing’s actions have been provocative, including amplifying unverified Russian claims that Ukraine ran chemical and biological weapons labs with US support.
Earlier this week, the US informed allies that American intelligence had determined that China had signalled to Russia that it would be willing to provide both military support for the campaign in Ukraine and financial backing to help stave off the impact of severe sanctions imposed by the West. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday reiterated that the Biden administration remains concerned that China is considering providing military equipment. He said Biden would make clear to Xi “that China will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia’s aggression, and we will not hesitate to impose costs”.