Chinese officials have consistently voiced sympathy for Russia during the Ukraine war by reiterating Mr. Putin’s criticism of NATO and blaming the United States for starting the conflict. They have refrained from any mention of a Russian “war” or “invasion,” even as they express general concern for the humanitarian crisis.
They mention support for “sovereignty and territorial integrity,” a common catchphrase in Chinese diplomacy, but do not say explicitly which nation’s sovereignty they support — meaning the phrase could be interpreted as backing for Ukraine or an endorsement of Mr. Putin’s claims to restoring the territory of imperial Russia.
China and Russia issued a 5,000-word statement on Feb. 4 saying their partnership had “no limits” when Mr. Putin met with Mr. Xi before the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Around that time, senior Chinese officials asked senior Russian officials not to invade Ukraine before the end of the Games, according to U.S. and European officials who cite a Western intelligence report.
Starting last November, American officials quietly held talks with Chinese officials, including the ambassador in Washington and the foreign minister, to discuss intelligence showing Mr. Putin’s troop buildup to persuade the Chinese to tell the Russians not to launch a war, U.S. officials said. The Chinese officials rebuffed the Americans at every meeting and expressed skepticism that Mr. Putin intended to invade Ukraine, the U.S. officials said.
William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, said Thursday in a Senate hearing that he believed Mr. Xi was “unsettled” by the Ukraine war.
Last Tuesday, Mr. Xi repeated China’s standard talking points on the war in a video call with the leaders of France and Germany. He also said that all nations should show “maximum restraint” and that China was “deeply grieved by the outbreak of war again on the European continent,” according to a Chinese readout. He did not say Russia had started the fighting.
U.S. and European officials say large Chinese companies will most likely refrain from openly violating sanctions on Russia for fear of jeopardizing their global commerce. On Thursday, some Russian news articles and commentary questioned China’s commitment to Russia after news agencies reported that China was refusing to send aircraft parts to the country.
Russia, as U.S. officials often remind the public, has relatively few friends or allies. And officials have said Russia’s outreach to its partners is a sign of the difficulties it is encountering trying to subdue Ukraine. [Continue reading…]