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Biden and China’s Xi Hold Two-Hour Call Amid Tension Over Ukraine War

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke on a video call on Friday about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Chinese media said Xi underlined that such conflicts are in no-one’s interests

Biden was expected to tell the Chinese leader that Beijing would pay a steep price if it supports the invasion, a warning that comes at a time of deepening acrimony between the two nations.

The call lasted just under two hours, the White House said.

Earlier, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told MSNBC that Xi should tell Russian President Vladimir Putin “to end this war of choice, this war of carnage” in Ukraine.

“China needs to stand on the right side of history. It needs to ensure that it does not backfill, financially or in any other way, sanctions that have been imposed on Russia,” she told CNN.

Xi told Biden that conflicts and confrontations such as the events in Ukraine are in the interests of no one, according to Chinese state media.

State-to-state relations cannot advance to the stage of confrontation, and conflicts and confrontations are not in the interests of anyone, Xi said.

“The Ukraine crisis is something that we don’t want to see,” Xi was quoted as saying. Chinese state media said the call had been requested by the U.S. side.

Before the call, a Chinese aircraft carrier sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Friday. The USS Ralph Johnson, an Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyer, shadowed the carrier at least partly on its route.

China claims democratically ruled Taiwan as its own, and has over the past two years stepped up its military activity near the island to assert its sovereignty claims, alarming Taipei and Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Biden would make clear to Xi that China will bear responsibility if it supported Russia’s “aggression” and that Washington “will not hesitate to impose costs.” Russia says it is carrying out a special military operation in Ukraine.

Speaking on Thursday, Blinken said the Biden administration was concerned China was considering directly assisting Russia with military equipment for use in Ukraine, something Beijing has denied.

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

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

Russia fired missiles at an airport near Lviv on Friday, a city where hundreds of thousands had sought refuge far from Ukraine’s battlefields, as Moscow tries to regain the initiative in its stalled campaign against Ukraine.

Ukraine has added a new front in a U.S.-Chinese relationship already at its worst level in decades, further deflating Biden’s initial hopes of easing a wide range of disputes by using a personal connection with Xi that predates his term in office.

The United States and China are the world’s two largest economies and Washington has been anxious to avoid a new “Cold War” between them, seeking instead to define the relationship as one of competitive coexistence.

However, China’s “no-limits” strategic partnership with Russia announced last month and its stance on Ukraine has called that into question.

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

Beijing, while saying it recognizes Ukraine’s sovereignty, has also said Russia has legitimate security concerns that should be addressed. It has urged a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

While Biden’s administration has threatened counter-measures if China helps Russia’s Ukraine effort, it and its allies have not yet decided precisely what steps they might take, according to a person involved in the conversations.

Targeting Beijing with the sort of extensive economic sanctions imposed on Russia would have potentially dire consequences for the United States and the world, given that China is the world’s second-largest economy and the largest exporter.

Analysts say China is unlikely to turn its back on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, but its diplomatic efforts to appear even-handed are becoming harder to maintain and closeness with Moscow could cost Beijing goodwill in many world capitals.

However, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, scorned the idea of Beijing being discomfited and instead lashed out against Western counties, accusing them of stoking fears in countries like Russia.

“Those who really feel uncomfortable are those countries that think they can lord it over the world after winning the Cold War, those that keep driving NATO’s eastward expansion five times in disregard of other countries’ security concerns, those that wage wars across the globe while accusing other countries of being belligerent,” Zhao said on Thursday.

China’s ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, has said China would have worked to prevent the war if it had known about the “imminent crisis.” However, according to a New York Times report in February, Washington shared intelligence with senior Chinese officials on Russia’s troop build up in an effort to convince Beijing to intervene with Putin, but were rebuffed.

A seven-hour meeting in Rome on Monday between U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi was described as “tough” and “intense” by U.S. officials.

Biden’s administration has not offered evidence of its claim that China has signaled a willingness to help Russia. Moscow has denied asking China for military assistance, and China’s foreign ministry called the idea “disinformation.”

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

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