China walks tightrope on Ukraine crisis

China has backed Russia’s security concerns but also called for Ukraine’s sovereignty to be respected

Updated - February 22, 2022 06:58 pm IST

Published - February 22, 2022 06:46 pm IST - Hong Kong:

Wang Yi

Wang Yi

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday neither endorsed nor criticised Russia’s actions but called for Moscow’s security concerns to be respected, underlining Beijing’s tightrope walk on the Ukraine crisis. China, which has close relations with Russia, has in recent weeks repeatedly backed Russia’s broader security concerns involving NATO, which mirror Beijing’s own concerns over U.S. alliances in Asia, but has also called for Ukraine’s sovereignty to be respected.

Mr. Wang told the Munich security conference on Saturday that respecting “the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries” was “a basic norm of international relations that embodies the purposes of the UN Charter.” “It is also the consistent, principled position of China. And that applies equally to Ukraine,” he said. Mr. Blinken, the State Department said in a very brief readout of the call, “underscored the need to preserve Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Mr. Wang told Mr. Blinken that “the legitimate security concerns of any country must be respected, and the purposes and principles of the UN Charter must be upheld”, reflecting the middle ground that Beijing is seeking to occupy between Russia and the west, without backing either side.

He repeated his call for a return to negotiation and the Minsk agreements, which now remain uncertain after Russia’s latest moves. He expressed concern that the situation was “deteriorating”.  Both Mr. Wang, and China’s UN envoy Zhang Jun, called on “all parties to exercise restraint” and “resolve differences through dialogue and negotiation” without explicitly criticising Russia’s moves, a stand that closely mirrored what India also said on Tuesday. 

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