The United States is attempting to force China to oppose Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine. On Friday, US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping held a nearly two-hour video meeting to discuss the conflict, as well as their bilateral relations.
The talks do not appear to have produced a substantive change in the position of either side, with the White House readout of the call evidencing that the US is continuing to allude to taking action against China but also, unusually, that Biden referenced Taiwan. The US president warned Beijing that there would be “implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia.”
In response, President Xi said China has always stood for “peace, and opposes war.” “All sides need to jointly support Russia and Ukraine in having dialogue and negotiation that will produce results and lead to peace,” he stressed, adding that NATO and the US should also engage in talks with Moscow.
This was the first known discussion between the American and Chinese leaders since November. It followed a meeting at the beginning of the week in Rome between US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and China’s leading diplomat, Yang Jiechi.
The US has made it clear that it will impose “costs” on Beijing if it is deemed to be “supporting” Russia. Earlier this week, several Western media outlets claimed Moscow had asked Beijing “for equipment and other kinds of unspecified military assistance” to aid its offensive in Ukraine. Beijing has dismissed the allegations, with the spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, saying of Russia’s alleged request that China “had never heard of that,” and adding that his country’s priority was “to prevent the tense situation from escalating or even getting out of control.” It’s likely the allegation was designed to both embarrass Beijing and further promulgate the narrative that Russia’s war effort is failing.
China is a cautious geopolitical player. It has a foreign policy premised on seeking stability and prioritizing its own economic development. Because of that, it does not and will not openly support the war in Ukraine. However, these concerns don’t mean Xi Jinping is going to jump into America’s arms and confront Moscow.
While China undoubtedly wishes for a peaceful resolution, it owes the United States nothing, and it recognizes that turning against Russia would involve exchanging long-term strategic considerations for short-term certainties. After all, once the crisis in Ukraine is over, it will be full steam ahead for the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy and business as usual when it comes to its containment of Beijing.
Last month, just before the opening of the Winter Olympics, Vladimir Putin met with Xi Jinping and sealed a “no limits” friendship between their two countries, affirming a joint vision for a multipolar world. The Russia-China partnership has strengthened considerably in recent years, each nation having faced the common strategic enmity of the US and its allies, with Washington long seeking to contain both in the pursuit of unipolar hegemony and to crush all of its competitors along the way.