Biden tells China's Xi to keep his distance from Russia's war effort

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WASHINGTON — During a two-hour call Friday morning, President Biden warned Chinese President Xi Jinping that supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would have severe consequences for Beijing, according to White House officials.

“The conversation was direct,” a senior administration official subsequently told reporters, adding that “the two leaders spent the preponderance of their time discussing Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine.”

Chinese officials described the conversation in much more tepid terms, expressing hopes that Western leaders could “solve the crux of the Ukraine crisis” but offering no condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Biden branded a “war criminal” earlier this week.

Joe Biden
President Biden speaking at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington on Friday. (Ken Cedeno/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“The Ukraine crisis is something that we don’t want to see,” Xi told Biden, according to wire service reports.

China is Russia’s top trade partner, one that has become even more crucial since Western nations have imposed heavy sanctions on Moscow in response to last month’s invasion. Beijing has been careful not to alienate either Putin or Western leaders, a tightrope act that could become more difficult as images of death and destruction continue to emanate daily from Ukraine.

Biden apparently did not make any explicit requests of his Chinese counterpart. “China has to make a decision for themselves about where they want to stand,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing on Friday afternoon.

Given its immense economic and political power, Beijing is unlikely to appreciate pressure from Washington. “China will make its own decisions,” the senior administration official said, while reiterating that supporting Putin’s war — as Beijing is reportedly considering doing — would have “consequences,” a likely reference to sanctions.

Asked during Friday’s press briefing about whether China was preparing to offer military support to Putin, Psaki declined to give an answer. “I’m not going to give an assessment on that,” she told reporters.

Relations between China and the United States have been tense in recent months because of human rights abuses committed against China’s minority Uyghur population; those abuses have been described as genocide. The U.S. engaged in a diplomatic boycott of the recently concluded Beijing Olympics, though American athletes did participate.

Chinese President Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Another issue of concern is Taiwan, whose complex and tenuous status is in some ways reminiscent of Ukraine’s fraught history with Russia. The senior administration official who spoke to reporters on Friday said Biden reaffirmed his support of the “One China” policy, which effectively recognizes Chinese claims on Taiwan without endorsing them. Taiwan is also a recipient of substantial U.S. military aid.

At the same time, the official said that Biden criticized “provocative actions” by China in the Taiwan Strait. Just hours before the Xi-Biden call, a Chinese aircraft carrier, the Shandong, reportedly sailed through the waterway while being monitored by a U.S. destroyer.


What happened this week in Ukraine? Check out this explainer from Yahoo Immersive to find out.

Where are Russian forces attacking Ukraine? Check out this explainer from Yahoo Immersive to find out.