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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, Feb. 4, 2022.SPUTNIK/Reuters

Beijing would have sought to stop Russia from invading Ukraine had it been informed of Moscow’s plans in advance, China’s envoy to the United States said Tuesday in his country’s strongest condemnation so far of the war.

According to U.S. officials, Beijing was briefed on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans before the invasion was launched on Feb. 24. Moscow later requested military equipment from China, Washington also maintains.

Writing in The Washington Post, Ambassador Qin Gang denied both reports, saying, “Assertions that China knew about, acquiesced to or tacitly supported this war are purely disinformation.”

“China is the biggest trading partner of both Russia and Ukraine, and the largest importer of crude oil and natural gas in the world,” he said. “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.”

Since the war began, Beijing has walked a delicate line of neither supporting nor criticizing Moscow’s decision to invade, abstaining from votes condemning it at the United Nations. At the same time, Chinese officials and state media have heavily boosted Russian conspiracy theories and justifications for the war, and Western leaders have accused Beijing of tacitly backing the invasion.

Speaking Tuesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, “China should join the rest of the world condemning strongly the brutal invasion of Ukraine by Russia.” He said the military alliance was “closely monitoring any signs of support from China to Russia.”

Mr. Qin’s op-ed is the latest sign that Beijing may have been rattled by the growing criticism of its stand and suggestions that there could be repercussions for its perceived support for Russia – even secondary sanctions.

Ahead of a meeting with a top Chinese official this week, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said, “We have communicated to Beijing that we will not stand by and allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses from the economic sanctions.”

“We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia,” he told CNN.

During a call with his Spanish counterpart Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, “China is not a party directly involved in the crisis and it doesn’t want to be affected by sanctions even more.”

“China always opposes the use of sanctions to solve problems, let alone unilateral sanctions that have no basis in international law,” he said, according to a Chinese readout of the call. “China has the right to safeguard its legitimate and lawful rights and interests.”

The Chinese economy is particularly vulnerable at the moment due to the combination of the war in Ukraine, which has sent oil and wheat prices skyrocketing, and new pandemic lockdowns, which dragged down Chinese stocks this week. The U.S., Canada and several other countries have already sanctioned certain Chinese officials and entities over Beijing’s human-rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

Mr. Qin said “threats against Chinese entities and businesses, as uttered by some U.S. officials, are unacceptable.”

“Neither war nor sanctions can deliver peace,” he wrote. “Wielding the baton of sanctions at Chinese companies while seeking China’s support and co-operation simply won’t work.”

While his op-ed contained implied criticism of Russia, and his and Mr. Wang’s statements suggested Beijing may be feeling the pressure over its tacit support for Moscow, they did not depart from China’s official line on the war, which has remained consistent.

“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine, must be respected,” Mr. Qin wrote, adding that so too should “legitimate security concerns of all countries” – the latter seen as language supporting Moscow’s position.

In a call with Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Tuesday, Mr. Wang said “that behind the Ukraine crisis lies the security tensions accumulated and intensified in Europe for a long time.”

“To achieve lasting peace and stability in Europe, the EU, NATO and Russia need to engage in equal-footed dialogue and establish a balanced, effective and sustainable security framework,” he added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday peace talks were sounding more realistic but more time was needed, as Russian air strikes killed five people in the capital Kyiv and the refugee tally from Moscow's invasion reached 3 million.


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