BEIJING – China's foreign minister on Monday called Russia his country's “most important strategic partner” as Beijing continues to refuse to condemn the invasion of Ukraine despite growing pressure from the U.S. and European Union to use its influence to rein Moscow in.
Wang Yi said Chinese ties with Moscow constitute “one of the most crucial bilateral relationships in the world."
China has broken with the U.S., Europe and others that have imposed sanctions on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. Beijing has said sanctions create new issues and threaten a political settlement of the conflict.
“No matter how perilous the international landscape, we will maintain our strategic focus and promote the development of a comprehensive China-Russia partnership in the new era,” Wang said at a news conference on the sidelines of the annual meeting of China’s ceremonial parliament.
“The friendship between the two peoples is iron clad," he added.
Much attention has been paid to a meeting between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing on Feb. 4, after which a joint statement was issued affirming “strong mutual support for the protection of their core interests."
Russia said it endorses China's view of self-governing Taiwan as an “inalienable part of China, and opposes any forms of independence of Taiwan," while China backed Russia in opposing the further enlargement of NATO.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has drawn comparisons to China's own threat to invade Taiwan to bring what it considers a wayward province under its control.
However, Wang said Taiwan was a “fundamentally different" issue from Ukraine because the island is “an inalienable part of China's territory."
“Some people, while being vocal about the principle of sovereignty on the Ukraine issue, have kept undermining China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity on the Taiwan question. This is a blatant double standards,” Wang said in a less-than-subtle dig at Taiwan ally the U.S.
China and Russia have increasingly aligned their foreign policies against the liberal Western order and their militaries have carried out exercises together and flown joint air patrols, as their relationship has taken on the trappings of an informal alliance. Wang accused the U.S. on Monday of trying to create an Asian version of NATO.
Xi’s government has refused to criticize the Russian invasion but tried to distance itself from Putin’s war by calling for dialogue and the respect of national sovereignty. That prompted suggestions that Putin failed to tell the Chinese leader his plans before their February statement.
Along with denouncing trade and financial sanctions on Moscow, Beijing says Washington is to blame for the conflict for failing to take Russia's security concerns into consideration.
During an hour-long phone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday, Wang said China opposes any moves that “add fuel to the flames” in Ukraine.
Wang said China hopes the fighting will stop as soon as possible and called for negotiations to resolve the immediate crisis, as well as talks on creating a balanced European security mechanism. He said the U.S. and Europe should pay attention to the negative impact of NATO’s eastward expansion on Russian security.
On a visit to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius on Monday, Blinken said China's actions were at odds with its avowed support for stability and “respecting sovereignty."
Blinken was speaking at a news conference with his Lithuanian counterpart, whose country has come under severe economic pressure from Beijing after it agreed to allow Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in Vilnius.
“From its coercion of Vilnius to its failure thus far to condemn Moscow’s flagrant violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine today and in 2014, Beijing’s actions are speaking much louder than its words,“ he said, referring to Russia's earlier annexation of Crimea.
In Brussels, European Commission spokesperson for foreign affairs Peter Stano said the EU would like to see China play a mediating role and convince Russia to stop its war in Ukraine.
“China has the potential to reach out to Moscow because of their relationship, obviously, and we would like China to use its influence to press for a cease-fire and to make Russia stop the brutal unprecedented shelling and killing of civilians in Ukraine,” Stano told reporters Monday.
He noted that China was not among the five countries which voted against a resolution adopted by the U.N. General Assembly condemning the Russian aggression. China abstained in the vote.
“This is a reason for us to continue and even step up our engagement,” Stano said.
Chinese state-controlled media have been told to post only pro-Russian content and to censor anti-Russian or pro-Western views, according to a copy of instructions that appeared on the social media account of the newspaper Beijing News. The post was later deleted.
On Friday, a translation by state TV of remarks by the head of the International Paralympic Committee during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Paralympics skipped portions that expressed horror about the war in Ukraine and called for peace.
The most senior Chinese leaders have avoided mentioning the war in public.
On Saturday, Premier Li Keqiang, the No. 2 leader, indirectly acknowledged its impact, saying prices of oil, wheat and other commodities are high and “prone to fluctuation,” but gave no indication why.
Global conditions, Li said, were “increasingly volatile.”
Associated Press journalist Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this report.