China has offered support for Russia in the face of its stand-off with the US and Nato over Ukraine, saying Moscow had “reasonable security concerns” that Washington and its allies should take “seriously”.
Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, told Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, that European regional security could not be guaranteed by “strengthening or even expanding military blocs”, in comments that appeared to back Russian opposition to Ukraine joining Nato in the future.
Speaking on Thursday on a videoconference call with Blinken, Wang urged all parties to “abandon the cold war mentality” and called for “balanced” negotiations to resolve tensions over Ukraine, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.
The state department said that Blinken stressed the need for de-escalation and diplomacy in his call with Wang, but also “underscored the global security and economic risks posed by further Russian aggression against Ukraine”.
Russia has amassed more than 106,000 troops on its border with Ukraine, sparking fears that President Vladimir Putin is preparing to invade. Nato has beefed up its presence in eastern member states while a number of western powers have stepped up supplies of arms and equipment to Kyiv.
Moscow has demanded security guarantees of the west, including that Ukraine should never become a member of Nato and that the security alliance should roll back deployment in states that joined after 1997.
The US and Nato delivered formal written responses to Moscow on Wednesday, echoing previous statements that Russia’s core demands were unacceptable and that all countries should be able to ask for Nato membership.
Russia said the responses left “little cause for optimism” but suggested a conversation would continue “on secondary issues”.
Wang’s comments come as China prepares to host the Beijing Winter Olympics, which it hopes will be not be overshadowed by war in Ukraine. They also point to rising concern in Beijing about US efforts to bolster alliances in Asia and Europe to counter the rise of China.
China and Russia have also stepped up co-operation over the past year, including holding more joint military exercises. Xi Jinping, Chinese president, also spoke to Putin more than any other foreign leader last year.
Washington has warned Moscow that it will impose powerful financial sanctions in response to an invasion. In a call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday afternoon, Biden said the US and its allies were ready to “respond decisively” in the event of a Russian invasion, according to the White House.
The US president also said America was exploring “additional macroeconomic support” to help Ukraine’s economy weather the pressure from Russia’s threats — and reassured the Ukrainian president that the US embassy in Kyiv remained open despite the departure of diplomats’ family members.
The Biden administration is watching closely for any signs that Beijing is planning to help lessen the pressure on Moscow in the event that Washington proceeds with any sanctions.
Victoria Nuland, US under-secretary for political affairs, said on Thursday it would not be in China’s interest to side with Russia.
“If there is a conflict in Ukraine, it is not going to be good for China either,” Nuland said. “There will be a significant impact on the global economy. There’ll be a significant impact in the energy sphere.”
Wang also called on the US to “stop playing fire on the Taiwan issue” and to “stop interfering” with the Beijing Winter Olympics, which are due to start next week. The US is not sending diplomatic representatives to the Games in protest at China’s alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
The spectre of Taiwan-China relations has loomed large as Beijing responds to Moscow’s aggression towards Ukraine.
Ukraine and Taiwan hold historic importance for Russia and China, respectively, and some experts see the US response to a Russian invasion of Ukraine as a test for how it would react to a Chinese move to invade Taiwan, a self-governing island over which Beijing claims sovereignty.