After initially blaming the US for provoking the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, China and its leadership are singing a slightly different tune on Friday as Russian forces waltz into Kiev following a brief - and almost embarrassing - a military campaign. As fighting breaks out just north of Ukraine, Chinese President Xi Jinping said Friday during a call with President Putin that he supported solving "the Ukraine crisis" through "talks".
There have also been reports about Russia potentially sending a delegation to Minsk for renewed talks with Ukraine.
Unsurprisingly, Chinese state media, who were among the first to report the news, used carefully considered language to discuss the 'incursion' into Ukraine. For example, they refused to call the attack "an invasion".
In a readout of the call on state broadcaster CCTV, Xi pointed out that the "situation in eastern Ukraine has undergone rapid changes... (and) China supports Russia and Ukraine to resolve the issue through negotiation". Russian forces have launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, unleashing air strikes and sending troops deep into the country, after weeks of diplomatic efforts failed to deter Putin from launching the military operation.
The Foreign Ministry confirmed that President Xi and President Putin discussed the situation during a phone call Thursday afternoon, claiming that President Xi shared China's position about respecting territorial sovereignty with Putin. China has shared "a certain amount of discomfort" with Russia's move.
At the same time, Beijing has offered its own widely discredited reasoning for why an incursion into Taiwan might be justified.
But that hasn't stopped Beijing from offering its tacit support to Russia - and it's not only the two countries' longstanding ties to Communism. They both have territorial ambitions: Russian wants Ukraine, and China wants Taiwan.
During the call with Putin, President Xi also discussed the importance of "abandoning the Cold War mentality", a reference to a new multipolar world where both China and Russia represent their own spheres of influence.
Ultimately for peace in Europe to be restored, Xi insisted that negotiations must be the preferred route.
According to the Chinese media readout, Putin outlined the reasons for Russia launching the "special military operation" in Ukraine, and told Xi that NATO and the US had "long ignored Russia's reasonable security concerns". He also confirmed when asked by Xi that Russia was indeed ready to hold "high-level" talks with Ukraine.
Xi insisted that China was "willing to work with all parties in the international community to advocate a common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security concept, and firmly safeguard the international system with the United Nations at the core", according to the CCTV readout.
But as the NYT reported in a story published Thursday, China isn't exactly innocent in all this:
Over three months, senior Biden administration officials held half a dozen urgent meetings with top Chinese officials in which the Americans presented intelligence showing Russia’s troop buildup around Ukraine and beseeched the Chinese to tell Russia not to invade, according to U.S. officials. Each time, the Chinese officials, including the foreign minister and the ambassador to the United States, rebuffed the Americans, saying they did not think an invasion was in the works. After one diplomatic exchange in December, U.S. officials got intelligence showing Beijing had shared the information with Moscow, telling the Russians that the United States was trying to sow discord — and that China would not try to impede Russian plans and actions, the officials said. The previously unreported talks between American and Chinese officials show how the Biden administration tried to use intelligence findings and diplomacy to persuade a superpower it views as a growing adversary to stop the invasion of Ukraine, and how that nation, led by President Xi Jinping, persistently sided with Russia even as the evidence of Moscow’s plans for a military offensive grew over the winter.
According to the NYT, China could have stopped all of this. But they wanted to Russians to act as their vanguard, going in first to conquer Ukraine before the Chinese in turn plot their own invasion of Taiwan.