Chinese embassy in Washington ‘believes US and China can cooperate on Ukraine issue’

  • The embassy spokesman says he has seen no evidence of war crimes by Russian soldiers, contrary to the American and European positions
  • It will be difficult for Joe Biden to work closely with Beijing unless China takes a more forceful stance against the Russian invasion, analysts say

The Chinese embassy in Washington called on Wednesday for closer US-China cooperation to help bring an end to the war in Ukraine.

The appeal by Liu Pengyu, the embassy’s spokesman in Washington, follows growing calls in the US and Europe for Beijing to clarify its position on the Russian invasion. China has tried to walk a fine line, supporting its “no limit” partnership with Russia in the face of global outrage without alienating its major export markets.

“I believe the US and China can cooperate on the Ukraine issue,” Liu said, referencing last week’s two-hour video call between President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping. “The two sides reached a consensus, which is to step up diplomatic efforts to end hostilities as soon as possible.

“And we look forward to progress on that,” he added.

At an hour-long virtual press conference on Wednesday, hours after a US State Department declaration to the contrary, Liu said that he had seen no evidence of war crimes in Ukraine, adding that China opposes any use of chemical or tactical nuclear weapons.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who joined EU leaders in calling Russian actions war crimes, said: “We’ve seen numerous credible reports of indiscriminate attacks and attacks deliberately targeting civilians. Russia’s forces have destroyed apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, critical infrastructure, civilian vehicles, shopping centres and ambulances, leaving thousands of innocent civilians killed or wounded.”

The spokesman said that the US and China did not agree on all approaches in Ukraine, that Beijing did not expect the Ukraine war to become a “China-US crisis” and that both sides needed to discuss alternatives to the economic sanctions that Beijing has long opposed.

“Sanctions only exacerbate tensions,” Liu said. “They’re never fundamentally effective in solving problems.”

But US analysts said it would be politically problematic for President Joe Biden’s administration to work closely with China unless Beijing engages more directly or otherwise takes a more forceful stance against the Russian invasion.

“It’s going to be very difficult to sell what could be perceived as softer policies on Beijing in a moment when Chinese rhetoric has been particularly prone to identifying the United States and Nato as the culprit,” said Sheena Greitens, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s just very hard for me to see how you could thread that particular needle, absent more movement from Beijing itself.”

On other issues, Liu said China has been working to de-escalate the crisis through meetings with foreign leaders. On Tuesday, an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he hoped Zelensky could speak with Xi “very soon”.

Asked about any Xi-Zelensky contact, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in Beijing on Wednesday that China maintained “smooth communication with relevant sides”, while in Washington Liu said dialogue was essential to prevent the humanitarian crisis from worsening.

“We are not providing weapons to Ukraine or the parties,” Liu said. “We are sending food, baby formula, sleeping bags for humanitarian aid.”

Analysts said on Wednesday that they expected China to remain on the geopolitical fence in the Ukraine crisis given the importance of its partnership with Moscow during this crucial political year when Xi is expected to be named to a third term.

Driving the China-Russia partnership is Beijing’s conviction that the US and Nato pushed Russia to the wall and bear significant responsibility for the invasion and that the US worked with allies to crush Russia’s economy, despite China’s belief that Moscow was defending its legitimate interests, said Tong Zhao, a Beijing-based fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

China’s juggling act is evidenced by its very small humanitarian contribution to Ukraine – currently around US$2.4 million – even as Washington pressures it to intercede with Moscow to end the military conflict, Zhao said.

“That’s about 1.5 apartments in Beijing,” Zhao said. “The US is making efforts to sharpen China’s choice, but China does not really appreciate it. China still wants to balance its strategic interests.”

Analysts said even as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war has driven up food and energy prices and slowed global growth at a time when the Chinese economy is wobbling, Beijing’s ties with Moscow are too important and relations with Washington too fraught for it to abandon Russia.

“The Chinese don’t at this point see any positive incentive or positive benefits accrue to them by jumping ship with Putin,” said Paul Heer, a fellow at the Centre for the National Interest and a former CIA analyst. “The United States in their view has declared itself to be China’s strategic adversary and competitor. And I think they’re going to bide their time.”

The longer the war drags on, analysts said, the greater the potential that the Xi-Putin relationship will weaken as their interests diverge. But an extended crisis also risks seeing the Western sanctions alliance weaken as well.
Outside pressure on China may be counterproductive, some said.

“The Chinese are going to do whatever they want to do regardless of what we tell them,” said Dov Zakheim, a Centre for Naval Analysis fellow and a former US under secretary of defence. “They do have influence over Putin, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to do it.”

Author: Mark Magnier, SCMP

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