Biden warns Xi of global backlash if China aids Russia’s attack on Ukraine

U.S. President Joe Biden makes remarks at an event marking the re-enactment of the Violence Against Women Act, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, March 16, 2022.

Tom Brenner | Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden held a nearly two-hour phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping Friday morning to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The call was seen as a critical test of whether Biden could convince China to stay on the sidelines of the conflict in Ukraine and decline Russian requests for military or economic aid.

Both Biden and Xi agreed on the need to promote peace and aid in the humanitarian disaster caused by the invasion. But they deeply disagreed over who is responsible for the suffering in Ukraine, with the Chinese leader refusing to hold Russia particularly responsible for the unprovoked invasion.

Instead, official readings from Beijing made it clear that Xi’s stance was that the US and Europe had provoked Russian President Vladimir Putin to attack Ukraine by expanding NATO into Eastern Europe.

Biden’s warning to Xi

During the call, Biden described “the implications and consequences if China gives material aid to Russia,” the White House said.

Pentagon officials last week said Moscow has asked Beijing for military and economic aid to wage its war against Ukraine, and initial intelligence reports suggested China had agreed.

After Friday’s call, neither Chinese nor US officials would say whether Biden had changed Xi’s thinking about Russia in any way.

The White House stressed that Biden had never intended to get assurances directly from Xi that China would not help Russia, only to clarify the choices Beijing faces.

“The president has laid out in detail the united response, not only from governments around the world, but also from the private sector, to Russia’s brutal aggression in Ukraine,” a senior government official told reporters Friday afternoon.

Biden “made it clear that there would likely be repercussions for those who would currently support Russia,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Beijing’s view of Ukraine

According to a read from the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s appeal, Xi told Biden that the United States and China each had an obligation to promote peace in Ukraine.

“The crisis in Ukraine is not something we want to see,” Xi reportedly told Biden.

Rescuers move the body of a person killed when a shell hit a residential building as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in Kiev, Ukraine on March 18, 2022.

Thomas Peter | Reuters

But even when he denounced the human price of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Xi still refused to blame Putin or the Kremlin directly for what’s happening there.

Instead, Xi suggested that Europe and the United States force Putin’s hand — echoing one of Moscow’s favorite topics of conversation.

“He who has tied the bell to the tiger must take it off,” Xi told Biden, according to a longer read of the State Department’s appeal.

The Chinese idiom is one that Xi has used before, and it means that whoever created the problem must solve it. According to Xi, Putin is the tiger and NATO has sounded the bell.

For now, however, China said Xi has told Biden its urgent priorities are “to keep dialogue and negotiations going, avoid civilian casualties, avert a humanitarian crisis and end hostilities as soon as possible.”

To that end, Beijing is “ready to provide further humanitarian aid to Ukraine and other affected countries,” the state readout said.

The Chinese government said Xi also referred to a “six-point initiative on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine”, but the foreign ministry did not provide details on what that would entail.

Still, the mere fact that China will provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine is a sign that Xi’s rock-solid alliance with his ally Putin could come under pressure at least on the surface.

Russia’s isolation

Spokespersons for both the Russian and Chinese governments publicly deny that Russia has contacted China for help in waging its war against Ukraine.

But the unprecedented economic sanctions imposed on Russia by NATO members and G-7 countries in response to the invasion have left the Kremlin isolated and, some analysts say, desperate for financial aid and military supplies.

Defense officials said China appeared open to supplying military supplies to Russia, but there is little evidence so far that China will openly help Moscow evade economic sanctions.

Beijing has little interest in getting involved in the economic struggle between Russia and the rest of the developed world.

“China is not a party to the crisis and does not want sanctions to hit China,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Monday during a telephone conversation with Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares.

The conversation between Biden and Xi started just after 9:00 a.m. Eastern and lasted barely two hours. That’s an unusually long time for a presidential meeting with the leader of an American adversary.

Xi and Biden “share the view that China and the US should respect each other, coexist in peace and avoid confrontation, and that the two sides should improve communication and dialogue at all levels and in all areas,” said Xi and Biden. the Chinese reading.

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