Ukraine crisis: US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken presses Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Beijing’s stance

  • The two top diplomats discuss the war in a call as Blinken notes ‘the world is watching’
  • Wang says that Beijing supports negotiations between Russia and Ukraine

Washington’s top diplomat pressed his counterpart in Beijing during a call on Saturday over China’s continued refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The call between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was the latest of Washington’s ongoing efforts to put some diplomatic pressure on China over its stance on the war.

“The Secretary noted the world is watching to see which nations stand up for the basic principles of freedom, self-determination and sovereignty,” said Ned Price, the State Department spokesman.

“He underscored that the world is acting in unison to repudiate and respond to the Russian aggression, ensuring that Moscow will pay a high price,” Price said.

As the fighting in Ukraine rages into a second weekend, with thousands already dead including civilians and children, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has been facing growing suspicion from Washington and its allies over how much he knew of Moscow’s plans to initiate a war in advance, and whether he gave Russian leader Vladimir Putin his tacit support to go ahead with the attack.

Xi and Putin met on the eve of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing one month ago, when the two rulers issued a statement declaring that their partnership had “no limits”.

According to Chinese state media, Wang told Blinken that China’s stance on the Ukraine “issue” is “based on the merits of the matter concerned”.

“He said all countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity should be respected and China welcomes negotiations between Russia and Ukraine to resolve the crisis,” said a readout of the call published by the China Global Television Network.

Beijing has also faced particular criticism for refusing to condemn Moscow after spending years claiming that it views the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity as sacrosanct.

The State Department did not say who initiated Saturday’s call between Blinken and Wang, the latest attempts by the Biden administration to elicit China’s cooperation in convincing Russia to back down.

“Particularly in the last few weeks, we’ve been talking to the Chinese government at all levels about our concerns, and about our determination to try to find a diplomatic outcome when we thought that was still possible,” said State Department counsellor Derek Chollet in an interview on Thursday. “But short of that, when that failed, that Russia would face severe consequences.”

“We will continue to, and we are continuing to, stay in very active conversations with the Chinese government about the way forward here.”

The call came as Washington warned all US citizens on Saturday to leave Russia “immediately” given the prospect of official harassment against US citizens and arbitrary enforcement by Russian officials.

A Russian news agency reported that US basketball star Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury was detained last month, allegedly for possession of hashish oil.

A few hours earlier, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin described the Western sanctions imposed on his country after the invasion as “akin to a declaration of war” and warned that Ukraine might lose its “statehood” if it continued to resist.

“Our army will solve all tasks — I don’t doubt it for a second,” Putin added at a meeting in Moscow, his first extended remarks since his troops crossed the Ukraine border. “Everything is being done according to a plan.”

Beijing has also faced growing questions about whether it has put its own citizens living in Ukraine in danger by first downplaying the threat of war and then moving too late after the invasion began to help Chinese nationals leave.

The Chinese foreign ministry said last week that one of its citizens was injured by gunfire while trying to flee the country.

An unverified Ukrainian news report also said that four Chinese nationals were killed in an attack, but the Chinese state media outlet Global Times, a nationalist tabloid, denied that it was true, citing Beijing’s embassy in Kyiv.

Authors: Jacob Fromer, Mark Magnier, SCMP

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