China foreign minister warns against ‘fuelling the fire’ over Ukraine conflict

China’s new foreign minister has accused the US of shifting blame for the Ukraine war on to China, in an apparent pushback against warnings from Washington that China is considering supplying weapons to Russia.

Speaking on Tuesday morning, at the launch of a Chinese government paper on its global security initiative, Qin Gang said China was “deeply concerned” about the war in Ukraine escalating and possibly “spiralling out of control”.

Beijing signed a no-limits partnership with Moscow weeks before the invasion of Ukraine one year ago. Since then, it has refused to condemn the invasion and some senior Chinese officials have offered explicit support for Russia’s aims. However, it has presented itself as a neutral party, accusing the US and Nato of fuelling the conflict.

This week, China’s top diplomat and former foreign minister, Wang Yi, called for a negotiated settlement between Ukraine and Russia, during a stopover in Hungary on his way to Moscow. Wang, who will give a speech in the Russian capital in the coming days, has also flagged a peace plan, expected to be announced this week.

“Since the outbreak of the crisis, China has taken an objective and impartial stance based on the merit of the issue,” Qin said on Tuesday.

“We urge certain countries to immediately stop fuelling the fire, stop shifting blame to China, and stop hyping up Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow.”

Qin’s comments added to furious denunciations from Beijing after US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, warned on Saturday that Washington had intelligence that Beijing was considering providing “lethal assistance” to Russia.

“There are various kinds of lethal assistance that they are at least contemplating providing,” Blinken said in an interview with NBC News, adding that Washington would soon release more details.

On Monday afternoon, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the US was in “no position” to lecture China on the Ukraine conflict. Wang Wenbin said it was the US who had been “pouring weapons on to the battlefield”.

“We would never stand for finger-pointing, or even coercion and pressurising from the United States on our relations with Russia,” he told the regular press briefing in Beijing.

Efforts to repair the China-US relationship have disintegrated after the US shot down a suspected spy balloon over US airspace earlier this month. Beijing denied it was spying and accused the US of overreacting. An informal meeting between Blinken and Wang in Munich over the weekend did not appear to break the impasse.

Over the last week, there has been an apparent concerted campaign by Chinese officials and state media against Washington. State media has published multiple essays, infographics, op-eds and commentary pieces on “the perils of US hegemony”, and accused it of “playing up the China threat”.

“It is the US that has been threatening China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by continuously interfering in its internal affairs, be it in Taiwan, Xinjiang, Hong Kong or Tibet,” said a China Daily editorial on Tuesday.

“The US crying ‘China threat’ is no less than a thief crying ‘stop thief’.”

In the nationalistic Global Times tabloid, a commentary piece said Blinken’s accusation could be a tactic, accusing the west of seeking to hinder China-Russia trade as part of its suite of economic sanctions against Moscow.

Beijing has also accused the US of fuelling tensions in Taiwan, which Beijing claims as a province it intends to annex. Taiwan’s government and people overwhelmingly reject the prospect of Chinese rule. On Tuesday, Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, told a forum her government was “bolstering military ties” with the US, and would cooperate with it and other governments on issues including “authoritarian expansionism”, but gave no further details.

“What we’ve seen coming out of China in recent years, particularly under the current leadership, has been a lot of contradictions,” said Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, assistant professor at Taiwan’s National Dong Hwa University. She cited Beijing’s insistence on the international community respecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity, “but in the case of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine this is clearly not the case”.

“Also this constant urge to portray itself as a very self-confident and strong power, but at the same time being fearful of the slightest criticism and using a disproportionate response. They’re also sort of paranoid about anything perceived as anti-China – that’s a really important element of their international behaviour.”

On Tuesday, Qin launched a government concept paper on Beijing’s plans for a global security initiative, first announced by Xi Jinping at the Boao forum in April 2022. The paper described the ideals and principles underpinning Beijing’s plan, rather than specific details or logistics.

The initiative would be UN-backed, and “advocate a concept of common security, respecting and safeguarding the security of every country”, to resolve disputes through dialogue and consultation, the paper said.

It also explicitly rejected the use of sanctions – a long-held position of Beijing’s. It emphasised respect for “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries”, which Beijing regularly cites in dismissing international criticism of its activities, including its plans to annex Taiwan.

Wen-Ti Sung, a China expert at Australia National University’s Australian Centre on China in the World, said the concept paper appeared to be largely a strategic messaging exercise rather than a fully thought out strategy, and continued Beijing’s ambiguity over the Ukraine war. However, it had some notable specifics, such as the listing of multilateral institutions it saw as the best vehicles, including Asean, the Africa Union, and the Arab League.

“The GSI paper doesn’t name the European Union, or any regional organisation in Europe, for example Nato, as a rightful vehicle for regional security governance or dispute resolution,” Sung told the Guardian.

“Because China still wants to help Russia, and doesn’t want to give legitimacy to the EU or Nato playing a leading role on negotiating an end to the Ukraine War. The omission is telling.”


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