Hong Kong: China attempted to distance itself from Russia as the scale of the invasion becomes clear, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Friday saying it was “absolutely imperative” for all sides to exercise restraint to prevent the conflict from “getting out of control.”
“China has been following the evolution of the Ukraine issue, and the present situation is something China does not want to see,” Wang Yi said in phone calls with top diplomats from the U.K., France and the European Union, according to a readout from the official Xinhua News Agency.
“The safety of ordinary people’s lives and properties should be effectively safeguarded, and in particular, large-scale humanitarian crises have to be prevented,” the report cited him as saying.
The comments came shortly after President Xi Jinping made his first remarks on the crisis, urging Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a phone call to solve the issue through talks with the Ukrainians. Putin later said he’s ready to authorize talks with Ukraine on a possible neutral status for the country, but it’s unclear when or if they will take place.
China has stood by Russia over the past month as tensions escalated, with Xi hosting Putin at the Olympic Games in Beijing and declaring their friendship had “no limits” in a lengthy statement. China also endorsed Putin’s security concerns over the expansion of the NATO alliance and abstained Friday from a vote on a United Nations Security Council draft resolution, vetoed by Russia, that condemned the Ukraine invasion.
Still, China’s statements since the invasion show an increasing discomfort, particularly with reports of heavy fighting in the capital Kyiv and other cities.
Wang’s latest comments mark a shift in tone from tense press briefings immediately after Putin ordered the military operation. On Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying pinned the blame on the U.S., questioned the use of the word “invasion” and highlighted Russia’s comments that the military would avoid artillery strikes on cities.
On Friday, Wang made clear that China supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, adding that Beijing backs the interests of “small and medium-sized countries.” While taking some veiled shots at the U.S., the senior diplomat also called China a “responsible major country” — signaling that Beijing is concerned about how the Russian conflict might impact the reputation of the world’s second-biggest economy.
“China has always been faithfully fulfilling its international obligations and playing a constructive role in safeguarding world peace and stability,” Wang said. -Bloomberg