Biden and Xi Jinping discuss Ukraine war, weapons and Russian sanctions

“This is an opportunity for President Biden to assess where President Xi stands,” Psaki said. There has been an “absence of denunciation by China of what Russia is doing,” which she added “speaks volumes” around the world.

The Biden administration has made clear to Beijing its “deep concerns” about any alignment with Russia, she said, adding that reports that China may supply Russia with military equipment were of “a high concern.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked US leaders for a no-fly zone Wednesday. Politics reporter Amber Phillips explains why that’s unlikely to happen. (Casey Silvestri/The Washington Post)

With the invasion into its fourth week, China’s effort to displease neither Russia nor the West is looking untenable, some experts say, as pressure mounts on Beijing to use its influence over Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s economic ties with Russia to force a cease -fire. Biden is expected to press Xi to persuade Putin to end the attack.

Beijing is in a difficult position, said David Shullman, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub. “This war is a massive disruption at a terrible time for China,” he said. “Beijing doesn’t know how this will end … They don’t see an opportunity right now — they’re in a bind and trying to find their way through it.”

Earlier this week, national security adviser Jake Sullivan had an “intense” and “candid” seven-hour meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Rome about the potential consequences of any assistance that Beijing might provide Moscow.

“We’re concerned,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday, “that they are considering directly assisting Russia with military equipment to use in Ukraine.” He issued an explicit warning to China, saying “we will not hesitate to impose costs” if Beijing support’s Russia’s aggression.

“We believe China in particular has a responsibility to use its influence with President Putin and to defend the international rules and principles that it professes to support,” Blinken said. “Instead, it appears that China is moving in the opposite direction by refusing to condemn this aggression while seeking to portray itself as a neutral arbiter.”

China has struggled to balance between maintaining its “no limits” strategic alliance with Russia — as both sides described the partnership in February — and salvaging its relationship with Western countries. Beijing’s silence amid overwhelming international condemnation of the invasion has prompted critics to call China an accomplice to the Kremlin’s actions.

In recent weeks, Chinese officials have shifted their tone, distancing themselves slightly from Moscow. While state media and statements do not describe Russia’s actions as an “invasion,” Xi called the conflict a “war” for the first time while speaking to his German and French counterparts last week, and China’s ambassador to the United States wrote in an op -ed in The Washington Post that “[h]ad China known about the imminent crisis, we would have tried our best to prevent it.”

However, for the most part, China’s position appears unchanged. In official comments and Chinese state-media editorials published before the call, Beijing signaled no willingness to change its stance of avowed neutrality — of neither endorsing nor condoning Russia’s actions, while supporting Moscow’s claims of security concerns and blaming the United States and NATO for the crisis.

“Both sides want to make sure the other side has no doubts about its own firm position,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University, who said he did not believe the call would have any “major positive impact” on US-China relations.

“Both Beijing and Washington will understand each other’s positions. All these realizations will further harden confrontation between the two countries,” he added.

Referring to China’s behavior since the conflict began, Psaki pointed to the country’s abstention in United Nations Security Council votes on the war and its echoing of unsubstantiated claims of American biochemical labs in Ukraine. “It’s a question of where you want to be as the history books are written,” she said, prompting Chinese officials to swiftly hit back.

“The claim that China is on the wrong side of history is overbearing. It is the US that is on the wrong side of history,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying tweeted.

Hua said that if the United States had “refrained from repeatedly expanding NATO and pledged that NATO would not admit Ukraine, and had not fanned the flames by supplying weapons and ammunition to Ukraine, the situation would have been very different.” She added that many countries were drawing their own “independent conclusions” on the conflict.

Ahead of the meeting, the state-run Global Times, quoting an anonymous Chinese government official, said Beijing had agreed to the meeting, initiated by the White House, out of consideration for bilateral relations and the desire to “urge the United States to take the right stance.” Psaki said the call had been “mutually agreed” upon.

A pledge from Xi that China would not break the international sanctions imposed on Russia would be a victory for Biden. Butrs say that although Chinese companies have largely complied with the sanctions, China is unlikely to offer any such promise.

“The call is unlikely to produce any substantive changes to China’s position,” said Amanda Hsiao, senior China analyst at the International Crisis Group. “It will not pressure Moscow into a settlement or openly support sanctions because Beijing likely calculates that its relationship with Washington will not improve even if it does so.”

Topics aside from Ukraine will also be on the table, Psaki said. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said Friday that the Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong had sailed through the Taiwan Strait, a provocative move just before the call.

Beijing claims democratic Taiwan, an ally of the United States that has been on heightened alert since the Ukraine crisis, is part of its territory and has promised to take it over by force if necessary.

Reis Thebault contributed to this report.

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