Chinese leader Xi Jinping said war was ‘in no one’s interest’ in a Friday phone call with Joe Biden in which the US president aimed to pressure Beijing into joining Western condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The 1.5-hour phone call ended at 10:53 a.m. in Washington (2:53 p.m. GMT), the White House said.
State broadcaster CCTV reported that Xi said during the call that “state-to-state relations cannot go to the stage of military hostilities.” China and the United States should “assume international responsibilities”, Xi said, while declaring that “Peace and security are the most precious treasures of the international community.”
It was not immediately clear whether Xi had directly criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine or whether he had expressed willingness to help the US-led pressure campaign on the Kremlin. In their first call since November, Biden hoped to persuade Xi to at least give up on any idea of bailing out Russia.
China should “understand that its future is with the United States, with Europe, with other developed and developing countries in the world. Their future is not to be with Vladimir Putin,” Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told CNN earlier Friday.
So far, Beijing has refused to condemn its overbearing ally, and Washington fears that China will provide financial and military support to Russia, turning an already volatile transatlantic standoff into a global dispute.
If that happened, not only could Beijing help Putin overcome sanctions and continue his war, but Western governments would face the painful decision to retaliate against the world’s second largest economy, likely causing turmoil in international markets. .
The White House was tight-lipped on whether Biden would threaten China with economic sanctions during his call, but some sort of answer was on the table.
Biden “will make it clear that China will take responsibility for any action it takes to support Russia’s aggression and we will not hesitate to impose costs,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said ahead of the call . Blinken urged China to use its “influence” on Moscow.
China ‘balancing priorities’
The Biden-Xi call came after US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Chinese Communist Party chief diplomat Yang Jiechi held what the White House called a seven-hour “substantial” meeting in Roma this week. Chinese tensions over Taiwan and trade disputes, the ability or failure of Biden and Xi to agree on the chaos unfolding in Europe will reverberate widely.
Xi and Putin symbolically sealed their close partnership when they met at the February Winter Olympics in Beijing – just before Putin launched his assault on Ukraine. Since then, Beijing has stood out by refusing to join the international outcry over the invasion, while taking the Russian line in blaming the United States and NATO for European tensions. The Chinese authorities even refuse to call the invasion a “war”, always in agreement with the talking points of the Kremlin.
But China has also tried to remain somewhat ambiguous, declaring its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty. Ryan Hass, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and former adviser on China to President Barack Obama, said Beijing needed to sort out its conflicting priorities.
Despite comfort with Moscow, China – the world’s largest exporter – is closely tied to the United States and other Western economies. She also wants to play a leading role in the world. “The interests of China and Russia are not aligned. Putin is an arsonist of the international system and President Xi sees himself as an architect to remake and improve the international system,” Hass said.
“President Xi is trying to balance competing priorities. He really values China’s partnership with Russia, but at the same time he doesn’t want to undermine China’s relationship with the West.”
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