Ukraine Crisis Exposes U.S. As 'Bully,' China's Leading Party Paper Says

China is doubling down on its portrayal of the United States as the main cause of the war in Ukraine, with its most prominent newspaper criticizing the West in general and America in particular for attempting to make Beijing pick a side.

In Monday's People's Daily, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s flagship paper, a page 3 editorial continues an anti-American series by "Zhong Sheng," the Chinese leadership's pen name when writing on international affairs. Part 10 of the series declares: "U.S. is trampling on international order by stoking bloc confrontation."

"Since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the U.S., instead of promoting peace talks, has taken the conflict as an opportunity to heighten an atmosphere of the friend-enemy binary narrative," the paper says.

"Some politicians in the U.S. have deliberately stressed 'the West,' claimed that 'the West is now stronger and more united than it has ever been,' and praised the U.S. as a defender of rules-based international order, while unscrupulously coercing other countries into taking sides, attempting to make other countries irrevocably committed to its own ideology," the People's Daily argues in the April 11 column.

China Says U.S. Bullying Caused Ukraine War
Chinese President Xi Jinping waves ahead of a a video meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing on December 2, 2019. The close relationship between Xi and the Russian president has been a key factor behind China’s continued alignment with Russia despite Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Noel Celis/Pool/Getty Images

Since Russia's war against Ukraine began on February 24, China claims to have maintained a neutral posture that sides with neither Moscow nor Kyiv. Beijing has no geopolitical interests in the conflict, its diplomats say. In the West, however, leaders see China's refusal to condemn Russia as tacit support for Vladimir Putin's actions. What's more, Chinese diplomats vote with their Russian counterparts at the United Nations, contradicting its own argument that its position on the war remains consistent with the majority of UN members.

Seven weeks into Putin's military campaign in Ukraine, China is yet to respond to Kyiv's positive overtures about a possibly critical phone call between Volodymyr Zelensky and Xi Jinping, the latter regarded by many as the one man whose political leverage over the Kremlin could help bring about a cease-fire. The Russian president, meanwhile, appears to have the Chinese leader's ear. On February 25, the day after the invasion began, Xi told Putin he "respects the actions taken by the Russian leader in the current crisis situation," according to a readout published by Moscow.

At home, China's pro-Russia lean is even more obvious—and narrative frameworks endorsed by the People's Daily lead the state-sponsored messaging directed toward the domestic audience. These include a refusal to describe Russia's war as an "invasion"; ongoing opposition to Western sanctions and the transfer of arms to Ukraine; siding with Moscow against NATO; repeating Russian disinformation about American biological weapons; offering a "both-sides" argument to accusations of war crimes in Bucha and Kramatorsk; and ultimately pinning the entire crisis on Washington.

China watchers see the inconsistent external and internal positions as damaging its international reputation, especially among key Western trading partners like the U.S. and the EU. Accordingly, the People's Daily has pushed back at attempts to turn Beijing against Moscow: "The true colors of the U.S., a bully that does not care about international order, have become more evident since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine conflict."

"In order to form an anti-Russia alliance, the U.S. has imposed pressure on other countries by making appeal, publishing statements, among other means, forcing them to make a choice for 'how they want to appear in books on the Ukraine crisis,'" says the Zhong Sheng editorial, which also blasts America's threat of secondary sanctions if the Chinese leadership helps Putin evade the West's economic punishment.

"Centered on the principle of America First and U.S. supremacy, America's foreign policy is aimed at maintaining hegemony and bullying others, and has never had anything to do with equality and mutual respect," the CCP paper writes.

"As a member of the global village, the U.S. shouldn't attempt to substitute rules of the village with its domestic rules, let alone allowing the hegemonic doctrine of America First to undermine international order or U.S. hegemony to trample on international rules," it concludes.

On Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry erased any doubts that the latest People's Daily column represented more than just the views of the ruling party's most-read newspaper. Spokesperson Zhao Lijian repeated the opening paragraphs of the editorial before adding: "The Ukraine issue has revealed what the U.S. would do in pursuit of hegemony and bullying. But the list of U.S. practices of the same nature goes on."

"Holding on to Cold War mentality, the U.S. is obsessed with drawing ideological lines when forming closed and exclusive cliques and stoking opposition and confrontation. The real agenda is to prolong U.S. hegemony and power politics," he said. "The U.S. should face up to the public opinion of the world, including China, discard Cold War and zero-sum mentality as well as the obsolete thinking of seeking its absolute security at the expense of others' at an early date, and return to the path of upholding international equity and justice."