Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi insisted Monday his country is “not a party” to Russia’s war with Ukraine, after U.S. officials claimed Moscow had requested military equipment from Beijing and Washington urged the Asian powerhouse not to get involved.
“China is not a party to the [Ukraine] crisis,” Wang reportedly told his Spanish counterpart, José Manuel Albares, over the phone, according to Xinhua, China’s state press agency. “Some forces have kept smearing China on the Ukraine issue … and fabricated all sorts of disinformation.”
Wang’s remarks came after U.S. officials told multiple news outlets, including POLITICO, on Sunday about the Russian request, and as China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi also spoke with U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Rome for seven hours on Monday, according to a senior U.S. official.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the report of the request on Monday, according to Russian media outlet Kommersant, insisting “Russia has an independent potential to continue the operation” and therefore “no reason” to seek military assistance from anyone else.
The reports of Russia’s request prompted share prices of Chinese tech companies to drop by their biggest margin since 2008 on Monday, and Chinese officials began voicing concern about potentially being dragged into Western sanctions against Moscow.
“China has no wish to be impacted by the sanctions,” Wang told Albares. “China has the right to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests.”
The White House, meanwhile, issued a brief statement on the talks with Yang in Rome, saying: “Sullivan raised a range of issues in U.S.-China relations, with substantial discussion of Russia’s war against Ukraine. They also underscored the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and China.”
The senior U.S. official said the conversation was “candid” and “intense,” adding: “We do have deep concerns about China’s alignment with Russia at this time.”
A Chinese government readout of the Rome talks said Yang told Sullivan that the situation in Ukraine today “is not what China wants to see” and insisted Beijing is “committed to promoting peace talks, and the international community should jointly support the Russia-Ukraine peace talks to achieve substantive results as soon as possible.”
“All parties should exercise maximum restraint and protect civilians,” Yang added, according to the readout. He also implicitly called for an understanding of Russia’s position and echoed an argument about supporting “the principle of indivisible security,” which the Kremlin has used to justify its brutal invasion of Ukraine. “The history and development of the Ukraine issue should be straightened out … The legitimate concerns of all parties should be responded to,” Yang said.
While Beijing has voiced concern over the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, it has not publicly put pressure on Russia to stop the war, and it promised to keep the trade flow normal with Russia despite Western sanctions.
The Xinhua report on Wang’s call with Albares said the Chinese foreign minister stressed Beijing’s efforts to facilitate a cease-fire between Russia and Ukraine. “Since Day One of the Ukraine crisis, China has been using its own ways to call for peace and facilitate talks,” Wang said.
The U.S. assertion that Russia has reached out to China for military assistance also renewed suspicion among officials in the European Union about Beijing’s role in the Ukraine crisis. Diplomats said national EU foreign ministers are “bound” to discuss it during a Council meeting next week.
“Diplomats are planning to discuss it on the EU level,” a senior diplomat said. “Ukraine has to be the main subject in the April 1 EU-China summit.”
A separate senior EU official said top leaders in Brussels are now awaiting expert reports to assess the degree to which China may be assisting Russia.
“We are looking into this to get accurate information and discuss with our experts. It’s not a very comforting idea if China is explicitly siding with Russia,” the official said.
Manfred Weber, leader of the largest group in the European Parliament, the center-right European People’s Party, said: “China’s direct military support for the Russian war in Ukraine would have major implications for Europe’s relations with Beijing. The situation between Europe and China is already tense, but China should be aware it can get much worse.”