Biden and Xi quarrel over Putin’s war in Ukraine

FILE PHOTO: A television screen shows news of a video meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hong Kong
FILE PHOTO: A television screen shows news of a video meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping November 16, 2021 in Hong Kong, China. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

March 18, 2022

By Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to tell Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday that Beijing will pay a price for supporting Russia’s military operations in Ukraine, a warning that comes at a time when which deepens the conflict between nations.

Biden and Xi are set to speak by phone, scheduled for 9 a.m. Eastern Time (1300 GMT), and Washington has already privately and publicly threatened lower-ranking Chinese officials that greater support for Russia could risk Beijing’s isolation.

The Biden-Xi talk, the first since November, will be fraught with tension.

Biden “will make it clear that China will bear responsibility for any action it takes in support of Russian aggression, and we will not hesitate to impose costs,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday.

“We are concerned that they are considering directly supporting Russia with military equipment for use in Ukraine,” he said.

China has denied such plans.

Washington is also concerned that China could help Russia circumvent economic sanctions imposed by Western nations.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its fourth week, has killed hundreds of civilians, reduced urban areas to rubble and sparked a humanitarian crisis as millions flee the country.

It has also added a new front in contentious US-China relations, shattering Biden’s initial hopes of settling a multitude of disputes by leveraging a personal connection with Xi that predated his tenure.

Biden warmly welcomed Xi in the opening moments of a video conference in November. Xi called Biden an “old friend”.

US officials are increasingly viewing relations with Beijing through the prism of inherent competition, though they want to avoid a “cold war” or direct confrontation between the rival powers.

Washington sees China growing even closer to Russia after Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “no limits” strategic partnership last month.

China has refused to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine or call it an invasion, and has censored online content in China that is pro-Western or unfavorable to Russia.

While recognizing Ukraine’s sovereignty, Beijing also said Russia had legitimate security concerns that should be addressed and was urging a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

While Biden’s administration has threatened unspecified countermeasures if China backs Russia’s efforts in Ukraine, officials have increasingly come to terms with the likelihood.

The United States and its allies have not yet decided exactly what steps to take against China, according to a person involved in those talks.

Targeting Beijing with the kind of sweeping economic sanctions against Russia would have potentially dire consequences for the United States and the world, since China is the second largest economy and the largest exporter.

A seven-hour meeting in Rome Monday between Biden and Xi’s junior advisers was described by officials as “tough” and “intense.”

Biden’s administration has yet to provide evidence to support claims that China has signaled its willingness to help Russia.

Moscow has declined to ask China for military support, and China’s foreign ministry called the idea “disinformation.”

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said this week the country was counting on China to resist the blow to its economy by punishing Western sanctions aimed at isolating Russia’s economy from the rest of the world.

The European war is not the only challenging issue on the Biden-Xi agenda.

The two leaders are also expected to share notes on Iran’s nuclear talks, North Korea’s and Taiwan’s missile launches. China and the United States are also holding separate trade talks.

(This story will be rearranged to the correct day through Thursday in the fourth paragraph.)

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore) Biden and Xi quarrel over Putin’s war in Ukraine

Bobby Allyn

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