Russia's Ukraine attack forces Beijing into diplomatic dance

BEIJING: Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which China refuses to condemn or even call an invasion, has sent Beijing into a diplomatic scramble to limit blowback while standing by a partner with which it has grown increasingly close in opposition to the West.

China has repeatedly called for dialogue, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi telling senior European officials in a flurry of telephone calls on Friday (Feb 25) that China respects countries’ sovereignty, including Ukraine’s, but that Russia’s concerns about NATO’s eastward expansion should be properly addressed.

After one call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, China said Putin was willing to engage in “high-level” dialogue with Ukraine and the Kremlin later said Putin was ready to send a delegation to Minsk for talks with representatives of Ukraine.

The diplomatic overture follows an invasion some diplomats in Beijing believe came as a surprise to China, which did not tell its citizens to leave Ukraine ahead of time and which had repeatedly accused the United States of hyping the threat of a Russian attack.

This week Beijing, which bristles at criticism of its stance on Ukraine, would not directly address whether Putin told China he was planning to invade, saying Russia as an independent power did not need China’s consent.

China’s foreign policy is based on non-interference in the affairs of other countries, and it has yet to recognise Russia’s claim to the Crimea region of Ukraine after its 2014 invasion.

“Their first reaction of denying there was an invasion was surprising to us,” said a Western diplomat in Beijing who declined to be identified, given the sensitivity of the matter.

“It is a total contradiction with their long-standing positions on sovereignty, territorial integrity, non-interference.”


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