China’s President Xi Jinping called for “maximum restraint” after Russia invaded Ukraine and said Beijing is “pained to see the flames of war reignited in Europe”.
Xi, speaking at a virtual meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, said the three countries should jointly support peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
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The Chinese leader described the situation in Ukraine as “deeply worrying” and said the priority should be preventing it from escalating or “spinning out of control”.
Xi also said France and Germany should make efforts to reduce negative effects of the crisis, and expressed concern about the impact of sanctions on the stability of global finance, energy supplies, transportation and supply chains.
In a statement, a German government spokesperson said: “Chancellor Scholz, President Macron, and President Xi agreed to fully support all negotiations aimed at a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
“The three heads of state and government spoke out in favour of humanitarian relief and access to the contested areas,” the spokesperson said, adding their three foreign ministers would enter close consultations to coordinate further efforts to end the war.
China, which has refused to condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine or call it an invasion, has repeatedly expressed opposition to what it describes as illegal sanctions on Russia.
China’s friendship with Russia, strengthened last month when President Vladimir Putin attended the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics on the same day that the countries declared a “no limits” strategic partnership, has become awkward for China as the war in Ukraine escalates.
Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, reporting from Beijing, said China is under increasing pressure to take a stand in the Ukraine conflict.
“What China would have wanted to see is a quick end to this war in Ukraine. But as things escalate it is clear Beijing is under increasing pressure to express its view as a known friend of Russia, as well as to be seen playing some sort of active role,” Yu said.
“China is walking a very tight and tricky diplomatic rope. It wants to be seen as taking no side at all.”
‘Did not anticipate’
On Tuesday, the CIA’s director said he believes Xi has been “unsettled” by Russia’s difficulties in invading Ukraine, and by how the war has brought the United States and Europe closer.
“I think President Xi and the Chinese leadership are a little bit unsettled by what they’re seeing in Ukraine,” Central Intelligence Agency boss William Burns told US lawmakers during a hearing on global threat assessments.
“They did not anticipate the significant difficulties the Russians were going to run into.”
Burns, a respected American diplomat for three decades and a former ambassador to Moscow, told the US House panel that China’s leadership is concerned “by the reputational damage that can come by their close association with President Putin”.
Nearly two weeks into the invasion, Russian forces are bogged down in Ukraine, suffering as many as 4,000 fatalities, according to the Pentagon’s estimate, and encountering unexpectedly strong resistance from Ukrainian forces.
Moscow describes its actions in Ukraine as a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbour and unseat leaders it calls neo-Nazis. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext for an invasion to conquer a country of 44 million people.