What China Has Said About the Ukraine War So Far

President Joe Biden and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping met virtually on Friday, after U.S. officials set the scene with a stern warning to Beijing against providing military aid to Russia to help it fight the war in Ukraine.

China has claimed to be a neutral player in the conflict but U.S. officials have been concerned that Beijing may directly support Moscow in its war efforts. Officials in Washington have said that Russia asked China for military equipment and support for the war, which began on February 24.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said before the talks that Biden would make clear to Xi that China "will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia's aggression, and we will not hesitate to impose costs."

China has denied that Moscow had asked it for military assistance.

Xi has forged a strong partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has undermined U.S. dominance. Only weeks before the invasion, on February 4, Xi and Putin agreed on a wide-ranging strategic partnership—and a joint statement from the countries said that Russian and Chinese friendship "has no bounds."

Given how soon it was before the Ukraine invasion, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has accused China of being aware before the invasion that Putin was planning something. Beijing has denied this.

But a lot has changed in a few weeks, and Putin has become a pariah in the West, which has hit Russia with crippling sanctions.

What have Chinese officials said?

Xi has not publicly criticized Russia and was one of the first leaders to speak with Putin after he declared war on Ukraine. On February 25, barely 24 hours after the invasion, Xi and Putin spoke by phone. The Chinese government said in a statement that on the call Xi had expressed support for Russia in negotiating an agreement with Ukraine. Putin has been supportive of this if Ukraine accepts his terms.

After speaking with Biden on Friday for the first time since November, Xi said that the Ukraine crisis was not something China wanted to see.

"As permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and the world's two largest economies, we must not only lead the development of China-U.S. relations down the correct path, but also shoulder our international responsibilities and make efforts for world peace and tranquility," a readout of the call relayed by Chinese state media said.

Qin Gang, the Chinese ambassador to the U.S., wrote a column for The Washington Post on March 15 on where Beijing stands on the crisis unfolding in Ukraine.

Responding to claims that China knew about Russia's plans, Qin wrote: "There have been claims that China had prior knowledge of Russia's military action and demanded Russia delay it until the Winter Olympics concluded. Recent rumors further claimed that Russia was seeking military assistance from China."

"Let me say this responsibly: Assertions that China knew about, acquiesced to or tacitly supported this war are purely disinformation. All these claims serve only the purpose of shifting blame to and slinging mud at China," he added.

"Conflict between Russia and Ukraine does no good for China. Had China known about the imminent crisis, we would have tried our best to prevent it."

Some news reports have drawn parallels between the Ukraine conflict and tensions between China and Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a breakaway province and has pledged to reclaim, by force if necessary.

Qin, however, said that the Ukraine conflict and Taiwan were completely different situations.

"Ukraine is a sovereign state, while Taiwan is an inseparable part of China's territory. The Taiwan question is a Chinese internal affair. It does not make sense for people to emphasize the principle of sovereignty on Ukraine while hurting China's sovereignty and territorial integrity on Taiwan."

He said that when Xi attended a virtual meeting with leaders of France and Germany on March 8, the Chinese president emphasized the need to jointly support peace talks.

Senior Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi and U.S. National Security Adviser Sullivan met in Rome on March 14 to discuss the Ukraine war.

A statement by the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. said China always supported the view that sovereignty and "territorial integrity" must be respected. It said that China was committed to facilitating peace talks, and believed that the international community should jointly support ceasefire negotiations.

None of these Chinese statements directly condemned Russia or referenced a "war" or "invasion."

What have Chinese state media said?

Much of China's state media coverage on the war so far has focused not on the fighting, but on negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. Most of the time, the conflict has not been described as an "invasion" or "a war", CNBC reported on Friday.

State media have often blamed the United States for allegedly fueling the tensions in the region.

State media announcements ahead of the Biden-Xi call did not specifically mention Ukraine, despite the White House saying it would be the focus of the meeting.

However, in recent days, the U.S. news channel reported that there had been a slight change in rhetoric from state media channels—for example, China's English-language state broadcaster reported on civilian casualties from Russian attacks, while another state media outlet covered a Ukrainian military victory against the Russian army.

English-language state-run Chinese newspaper Global Times on Friday accused the Biden administration of "intensifying its disinformation campaign" over alleged Chinese military support to Russia.

Global Times said that the meeting between Xi and Biden reflected Washington's "growing anxiety" over the Ukrainian crisis, "especially after its attempt to change China's position failed in Rome and the U.S. is in dire need of China's help to deal with the chaos it created but failed to handle".

Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen during the Second Plenary Session of the Fifth Session of the 13th National People's Congress on March 08, 2022, at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China. Joe Biden and Xi spoke virtually on Friday, after U.S. officials set the scene with a stern warning to Beijing against providing military and economic aid to Russia to help it fight the war in Ukraine. Andrea Verdelli