China tells Russia it ‘understands’ its ‘legitimate security concerns’

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks to Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov hours after invasion of Ukraine

Updated - February 24, 2022 10:14 pm IST

Published - February 24, 2022 07:57 pm IST - Hong Kong

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi | Photo Credit: AFP

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Thursday that Beijing “understands” Moscow’s “legitimate security concerns”. The comments from Mr. Wang in a phone call on Thursday underlined Beijing’s broad backing to Russia on the Ukraine issue, even as its diplomats have called for a return to diplomacy. The diplomatic process, however, lies completely derailed following Russia’s invasion.

Beijing hasn’t explicitly endorsed or criticised Russia’s actions, although Mr. Wang’s comments may be perceived as implicitly offering support. In the phone call, Mr. Wang said “China always respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.” “At the same time,” he added, “the Ukraine issue has a complex and specific historical latitude and longitude, and China understands Russia’s legitimate security concerns.”

He also criticised NATO and called for a “balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism” which “completely abandons the Cold War mentality”.

China’s media broadly backed Russia and focused much of its coverage on NATO and Russia’s broader security concerns. “I believe Russia’s military operation is a reaction of Moscow toward Western countries’ exerting pressure on Russia for a long time, showing that Moscow can’t tolerate anymore,” Yang Jin, a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was quoted as saying by the Communist Party-run Global Times.

The Chinese Embassy in Ukraine, meanwhile, warned citizens to stay home but has not indicated any plans to evacuate them. In one notice that went viral on Chinese social media, the embassy asked Chinese citizens to display the Chinese flag on their cars if they were travelling long distances.

Chinese media reports also highlighted Beijing’s capacity to support Moscow in the face of sanctions. On Thursday, Chinese customs approved wheat imports from Russia, an indicator that China would remain open for business. China is Russia’s biggest trading partner and accounts for close to 20% of its total foreign trade, while two-way trade last year was up 35% to $147 billion.

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