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President Biden Presses China’s Xi on Russian Support in Video Call

President Biden Presses China’s Xi on Russian Support in Video Call

President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping spoke for nearly two hours on Friday as the White House hoped to prevent Beijing from providing military or economic assistance for Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The U.S.-China relationship has always been fraught with tension, but it has become more strained since the start of President Biden’s term. The President has repeatedly criticized China for military provocations against Taiwan, human rights abuses against ethnic minorities, and efforts to silence pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong. Whatever goodwill existed between the two global powerhouses has seemingly reached a new low with the Russian invasion.

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 issued a 5,000-word statement declaring limitless “friendship.” Beijing’s leaders would like to remain supportive of Russia, but they also recognize how badly the Russian military action is going as an overmatched Ukrainian military has put up stiff resistance, according to a Western official familiar with current intelligence assessments.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi met in Rome this week for an intense, seven-hour talk about the Russian invasion and other issues. On Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated that the Biden administration remains concerned that China is considering providing military equipment. He said Biden would make clear to Xi “that China will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia’s aggression, and we will not hesitate to impose costs.”

Ahead of the call, White House press secretary Jen Psaki had said President Biden would question Xi about Beijing’s “rhetorical support” of Putin and an “absence of denunciation” of Russia’s invasion. The White House said President Biden underscored to Xi the “implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians.”

Though seen as siding with Russia, China has also reached out to Ukraine, with its ambassador to the country on Monday quoted as saying: “China is a friendly country for the Ukrainian people. As an ambassador, I can responsibly say that China will forever be a good force for Ukraine, both economically and politically.”

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