China is the only major government to refrain from condemning Putin’s attacks. But it dampened it by calling for restraint and respect for national sovereignty.
“We still hope that the parties concerned will not close the door to peace and instead engage in dialogue and consultations and prevent the situation from escalating further,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy in Ukraine told its citizens there to stay home and place a Chinese flag in or on their vehicle if they were to travel.
Xi’s government reiterates Russian frustration over what they say is unfair US dominance of global affairs and Moscow’s rejection of NATO’s enlargement to the east, the US-European military alliance.
Beijing has blamed Washington and its European allies for the conflict over Ukraine.
“All parties should work for peace instead of escalating tensions or hyping up the possibility of war,” Hua said. “The parties that were busy condemning others, what have they done? Have they persuaded others? “
Following their meeting in Beijing, Xi and Putin issued a statement in support of key foreign policy issues on both sides – Moscow’s opposition to a NATO enlargement in former Soviet republics and China’s claim to the autonomous island of Taiwan.
Moscow’s attacks have plunged Beijing into a conflict between its partnership with Putin and its sensitivity to respect for national borders due to its fear of holding on to troubled areas such as Tibet and Xinjiang.
Li Xin, director of the Institute of European and Asian Studies at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said the West was forcing Russia to take action on NATO enlargement and deployment of a missile defense system.
“On the one hand, we respect territorial integrity and Ukraine’s sovereignty, but on the other hand, we must consider the historical process in the situation where Russia has been pushed into a corner and forced to attack,” Li said.
China has not backed Putin’s recognition of independence from eastern Ukraine’s separatist territories or his decision to send troops in, but Hua said Beijing “urged the parties to respect the legitimate security concerns of others.”
Hua did not describe Russia’s actions as an invasion or referred directly to the movement of Russian forces into Ukraine.
At a conference in Germany last weekend, Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused the United States of “stirring up contradictions.” Wang said, however, that the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of any country should be respected. He added, “Ukraine is no exception.”
Western trade sanctions and financial sanctions against Russia would strengthen Beijing in their relations by increasing China’s importance as an export market and source of investment.
On Thursday, China’s customs agency approved wheat imports from all regions of Russia, giving Putin an alternative to Western markets that could be closed under possible sanctions.
Russia is one of the world’s largest wheat producers, but has so far been shut out of China due to concerns about possible fungus and other contamination.
The two governments announced an agreement on February 8 for China to import Russian wheat and barley, after Putin became the highest-profile foreign guest to attend the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Thursday’s statement said Russia would “take all measures” to prevent contamination with wheat fungus and would suspend exports to China if found.
Russia has spent much of the last decade trying to expand gas exports and other trade with China and East Asian markets to offset the impact of Crimean-related sanctions.
Last month, state-owned Gazprom signed a 30-year contract to supply natural gas to China’s northeastern part of Russia’s Far East. The two sides agreed that the payment would be in euros to reduce their use of US dollars, the common currency in the natural resource markets.
Earlier, the two governments signed yet another gas supply contract in 2014 after more than a decade of negotiations. Industry analysts said Russia was giving in to Chinese pressure for favorable terms due to Moscow’s need for export earnings following the Crimean sanctions.