U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, via a video call on Friday, as Russia continued its attack on Ukraine. The call lasted just under two hours, as per the White House.
Mr Biden laid out the consequences the Chinese would face from the U.S. if they provide military or economic assistance for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There was no indication he got any assurance in return.
China’s Foreign Ministry, in a readout after the nearly two-hour conversation, deplored “conflict and confrontation” as “not in anyone’s interest,” but assigned no blame to Russia and said nothing of next steps.
“China has to make a decision for themselves, about where they want to stand and how they want the history books to look at them and view their actions,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
She declined to detail possible consequences Mr Biden specified to the Chinese president if his country provides support for the Russian invasion.
But a senior administration official who briefed reporters following the leaders’ call said that Mr Biden pointed to the economic isolation that Russia has faced — including economy-battering sanctions and major Western corporations suspending operations — as he sought to underscore the costs that China might suffer.
Conflict not in anyone’s interest: Xi
The “Ukraine crisis is not something we want to see,” Mr. Xi told Mr. Biden, according to a partial summary of the call tweeted by Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying. “Countries should not come to the point of meeting on the battlefield, ” the Chinese readout said.
“Conflict & confrontation are not in anyone’s interest. Peace & security are what the international community should treasure the most,” Mr. Xi said, according to Ms. Hua.
The Chinese readout of the call said that Mr. Xi told Mr. Biden that the “mishandling” of the Taiwan issue could disrupt bilateral ties.
“President Xi pointed out some in the U.S. have sent a wrong signal to ‘Taiwan independence’ forces, which is very dangerous,” Ms. Hua said on Twitter, adding that while the U.S. and China would continue to have differences, it was important to bridge these. Mr Biden and Mr Xi last spoke in November last year.
This is the second high level bilateral discussion between the two countries this week. Mr. Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had in-person discussions with Communist Party of China Politburo member and Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, Yang Jiechi, on Monday, in Rome. While a range of issues was discussed by both sides, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a significant part of the agenda, according to the White House.
China, like India, had abstained from a United Nations General Assembly resolution on March 2 condemning Moscow and calling for Russian troops to immediately withdraw from Ukraine. In recent days, U.S. officials had been quoted as saying that Beijing was offering Moscow military assistance, a claim dismissed by Beijing as “disinformation”. As the overwhelming majority of countries have condemned Russia for invading Ukraine and the U.S. and Europe have sanctioned Russian individuals and entities, Chinese support for Vladimir Putin’s government is being closely watched by Washington as this could undermine the impact of the sanctions.