WASHINGTON — Face-to-face via video, President Joe Biden explained to Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday the dire consequences the Chinese would face from the United States if it provided military or economic assistance to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
There was no indication that he had obtained insurance in return.
In fact, Xi blamed the US for the crisis and insisted with a Chinese proverb that the next decision was up to Biden:
“Whoever tied the bell to the tiger should remove it,” Xi said, according to a Chinese government statement.
More formally after the nearly two-hour conversation, the Chinese Foreign Ministry lamented “conflict and confrontation” as “not in anyone’s interest”, but assigned no blame to Russia and said nothing about next steps.
At the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki said: “China has to make a decision for itself, where it stands and how it wants the history books to look at it and see its actions. “
She declined to detail the possible consequences Biden spelled out to the Chinese president if his country backs the Russian invasion.
But a senior administration official who briefed reporters following the leaders’ call said Biden pointed to the economic isolation Russia faces — including sanctions that are hurting the economy and the suspension of operations by major Western companies – as he sought to highlight the costs China could suffer.
Xi urged the United States and Russia, which have had limited engagement since the Feb. 24 invasion, to negotiate. He noted China’s humanitarian aid donations to Ukraine, while accusing the United States of provoking Russia and fueling the conflict by shipping weapons to the beleaguered country. He also renewed criticism of China over the sanctions imposed on Russia following the invasion, according to state media. As in the past, Xi did not use the terms war or invasion to describe Russia’s actions.
Before the call, Psaki noted Beijing’s “rhetorical support” for Putin and a “lack of denunciation” of the Russian invasion.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying pushed back, calling the United States. “authoritarian” administration for suggesting that China is in danger of falling on the wrong side of history.
The two leaders also discussed the long-simmering US-China dispute over Taiwan. As a reminder of China’s threat to assert its claim by force, the Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Friday, just hours before the Biden-Xi call. The United States is legally obligated to ensure that the self-governing island democracy can defend itself and treats threats to it with “grave concern.”
Planning for the leaders’ discussion had been underway since Biden and Xi held a virtual summit in November, but differences between Washington and Beijing over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pursuit of his three-week war on Ukraine were at the center of Friday’s discussion. conversation.
The long strained US-China relationship has only grown more strained since the start of Biden’s presidency. Biden has repeatedly criticized China for its military provocations against Taiwan, its human rights abuses against ethnic minorities and its efforts to stifle democracy advocates in Hong Kong.
But the relationship may have hit a new low with the Russian invasion.
In the days following Putin’s deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine, Xi’s government tried to distance itself from the Russian offensive, but avoided the criticism that many other nations directed at Moscow. At other times, Beijing’s actions have been provocative, including amplifying unverified Russian claims that Ukraine ran chemical and biological weapons labs with US backing.
Earlier this week, the United States informed its Asian and European allies that American intelligence had determined that China had signaled to Russia that it would be willing to provide both military support for the campaign in Ukraine. and financial support to help avoid the impact of the severe sanctions imposed. by the West.
The White House says China has sent mixed messages. There were early signs that China’s state-owned banks were pulling back from financing Russian activities, according to a senior Biden administration official who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal analysis. But there were also public comments from Chinese officials who expressed support for Russia as a strategic partner.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and senior China foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi met in Rome this week for an intense seven-hour conversation on the Russian invasion and other issues. .
Ahead of the Rome talks, Sullivan said the United States would not respect China or any other country helping Russia circumvent economic sanctions imposed by the United States and other allies in response to the invasion.
Sullivan also said the administration determined that China knew Putin was “planning something” before the invasion of Ukraine, but the Chinese government “may not have understood the full extent” of what Putin had in mind.
Xi and Putin met in early February, weeks before the invasion, with the Russian leader traveling to Beijing for the start of the Winter Olympics. The two leaders released a 5,000-word statement declaring unlimited “friendship”.
Beijing’s leaders would like to support Russia, but they also recognize how badly Russian military action is going, as an outclassed Ukrainian army has put up stiff resistance, according to a Western official familiar with current intelligence assessments.
The official, who was not authorized to comment and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Beijing was assessing the potential “reputational boost” of being associated with the Russian camp. The Chinese response to Russia’s request for help is still being formulated, the official said.
Although seen as siding with Russia, China has also reached out to Ukraine, with its ambassador to the country saying on Monday: “China is a friendly country of the Ukrainian people. be a good force for Ukraine, both economically and politically.”
“We have seen how great the unity of the Ukrainian people is, and that signifies their strength,” Fan Xianrong told regional authorities in the western city of Lviv, where the Chinese embassy is based. is installed.
State media quoted Xi as saying China-U.S. relations had yet to “emerge from the dilemma created by the previous U.S. administration, but were encountering more and more challenges,” citing Taiwan as one area in particular.
“If the Taiwan issue is not handled properly, it will have an impact undermining relations between the two countries,” Xi reportedly told Biden.
Associated Press writers Jill Lawless in London and Josh Boak and Zeke Miller in Washington and AP press assistant Caroline Chen in Beijing contributed to this report.