Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed his country’s support for Moscow on issues of sovereignty and security in a phone call with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Xi told Putin on Wednesday “all parties should responsibly push for a proper settlement of the Ukraine crisis,” according to the official Xinhua news agency.
The Kremlin said in its account of the call that Putin “outlined his fundamental assessments of the situation in Ukraine”.
Xi “noted the legitimacy of the actions taken by Russia to protect the fundamental national interests in the face of challenges to its security created by external forces”, according to Moscow’s official readout.
China has not criticised Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has not referred to it in such terms, while accusing NATO and the West of provoking Moscow into attacking.
The United States expressed concern about China’s alignment with Russia, warning nations that side with Putin over his invasion of Ukraine will be “on the wrong side of history”.
“China claims to be neutral but its behaviour makes clear that it is still investing in close ties to Russia,” a US State Department spokesperson said.
Weeks before Russia launched the assault on February 24, Putin and Xi met in Beijing and oversaw the signing of an agreement pledging that relations between the sides would have “no limits”.
It remains unclear whether Xi knew of Russia’s plan to invade Ukraine at the time.
In that meeting, which took place hours before the Winter Olympics kicked off in Beijing, the two leaders pushed back against pressure from the United States, declaring their opposition to any expansion of NATO and affirming that the island of Taiwan is a part of China.
While offering its tacit support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China has sought to appear neutral and avoid possible repercussions from supporting the Russian economy amid international sanctions.
‘Expand economic cooperation’
During Wednesday’s phone call, the Kremlin also said the two leaders had agreed to ramp up economic cooperation in the face of “unlawful” Western sanctions.
“It was agreed to expand cooperation in the energy, financial, industrial, transport and other areas, taking into account the situation in the global economy that has become more complicated due to the unlawful sanctions policy of the West,” the Kremlin revealed.
The West has adopted unprecedented sanctions against Russia in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine and Moscow considers that Europe and the US have thus caused a global economic slowdown.
Moscow is also looking for new markets and suppliers to replace the major foreign firms that left Russia following the invasion.
The European Union and the US have warned that any backing from Beijing for Russia’s war in Ukraine, or helping Moscow dodge Western sanctions, would damage ties.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow’s strategic partnership with China had withstood attempts by the West to sow discord while the US and its European allies had destroyed their relationship with the Kremlin.
“Energy supplies are steadily increasing: China knows what it wants and doesn’t shoot itself in the foot. While to the west of Moscow, they shoot themselves in the head,” Zakharova told reporters.