Chinese Foreign Ministry Wang Yi demanded his American counterpart Antony Blinken respect “Russia’s reasonable concerns” in Ukraine during a phone conversation Wednesday, formally inserting China into tensions between Moscow and Washington over the former Soviet state.
Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and has since colonized the Crimean peninsula, maintaining an illegal presence in Ukraine for nearly a decade. Kyiv has also documented extensive evidence that Russia is providing material support for “separatists” waging war against the Ukrainian military in the Donbas region, which sits on Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia.
While the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a years-long reality, global panic ensued last week when President Joe Biden told reporters at a press conference that he believed Russian leader Vladimir Putin would invade Ukraine – again, presumably – and that the United States would not support its allies in Kyiv if the invasion was a “minor incursion.” Biden did not specify what counted as a “minor incursion.” Biden’s State Department followed up by urging all Americans to leave Ukraine this weekend on the grounds that another Russian invasion was allegedly imminent and pulling out the families of workers at the American embassy in Kyiv. The move surprised the administration of President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has issued multiple public remarks assuring Ukrainians that the government has no evidence supporting Biden’s claims of an imminent invasion.
American concerns stem from Russia organizing what appears to be a troop buildup of about 100,000 soldiers on the Ukrainian border. The Putin regime insists that such a buildup is necessary to deter actions by NATO member countries that could violate Russian sovereignty. During his conversation with Blinken, Wang made the same case and urged the United States to yield to Russia’s demands on the subject, which included a vow that Ukraine would never be allowed to join NATO.
“Russia’s reasonable concerns in the field of security must be taken seriously and settled,” Wang lectured Blinken, according to the Russian news agency Tass. “The security of one state cannot be ensured by harming the security of another country. Likewise, regional security cannot be ensured by strengthening or expanding military alliances.”
Elsewhere in the conversation, Wang reportedly berated Blinken for the Biden administration’s public statements nominally opposing China’s hosting of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. In December, the Biden administration announced that it would engage in a “diplomatic boycott” of the event – not a boycott, but the absence of American politicians at the event – but has since applied for visas for its diplomats, negating the comments. Wang nonetheless chided Blinken for the small gesture.
“The U.S. continues to make wrong words and deeds about China, causing new shocks to the relationship between the two countries,” Wang reportedly told Blinken. “The top priority right now is that the U.S. should stop interfering with the Beijing Winter Olympics, stop playing with fire on the Taiwan issue, and stop creating all kinds of anti-China small circles.”
The State Department readout of the conversation between Blinken and Wang prioritized the discussion of Ukraine.
“Secretary Blinken underscored the global security and economic risks posed by further Russian aggression against Ukraine and conveyed that de-escalation and diplomacy are the responsible way forward,” according to his agency. “The Secretary and Councilor Wang also exchanged views on how to advance work together following President Biden’s virtual meeting with President Xi on November 15, 2021, including on managing strategic risk, health security, and climate change.”
China’s growing role in the Ukraine crisis began to take shape this week when Russian officials stated that they were keeping Beijing informed of relevant developments.
“Our Chinese friends are paying close attention to the talks,” Russian Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov said on Tuesday, referring to talks with America and, presumably, Ukraine. “There’s no need to hide any content or subjects in these diplomatic efforts.”
Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov again emphasized close ties to China on Wednesday, which the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to favorably.
I want to stress that there is no ceiling to China-Russia mutual trust, no forbidden zone in our strategic cooperation, and no limit on how far our long-standing friendship can go,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters on Thursday. “China and Russia see each other as a priority in our respective diplomacy, which is a strategic choice based on our respective long-term development. The fundamental goal is to deliver benefits to the two countries and two peoples, uphold world peace and stability and promote international fairness and justice.
Lavrov also discussed conversations with the Biden administration on Wednesday, specifically regarding Russian demands that Ukraine never becomes a NATO member or host NATO troops. Lavrov expressed pessimism at any progress with Washington. He confirmed that he had received a formal reply from the State Department on Russian demands, which he dismissed as addressing only issues of “secondary importance.”
“There is no positive response to the main issue, which is our clear stand on the continued NATO enlargement towards the east and the deployment of strike weapons that can pose a threat to the territory of the Russian Federation,” Lavrov said, “which we consider unacceptable. This stand did not appear out of the blue. As you may know, the issue of NATO’s non-enlargement or enlargement, however you put it, has a long history.”