Ahead of their scheduled 9am (eastern) call this morning, President Joe Biden is expected to warn Xi Jinping that the US is ready to retaliate if Beijing is found to be actively supporting Russia in Ukraine, following a week of Washington allegations that China is mulling providing military equipment, including possibly drones, to replenish Moscow's supplies in Ukraine.
Previewing the conversation, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized Biden will "make clear that China will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia’s aggression, and we will not hesitate to impose costs" in a Thursday news conference. Blinken has charged that China is "considering directly assisting Russia with military equipment."
Blinken said further "it appears that China is moving in the opposite direction by refusing to condemn this aggression, while seeking to portray itself as a neutral arbiter." An example of this kind of mixed signaling is that China has so far withheld calling what kicked off on Feb.24 an "invasion" but has used the words "issue" or "crisis". At the same time China's ambassador to Kiev this week affirmed Beijing's "friendship" with Ukraine, vowing that it would never undermine its sovereignty and that it would "never attack" it.
Jen Psaki described the call as a chance for Biden to assess "where President Xi stands." There is also a widespread belief within the US administration that Beijing is prepared to assist Russia with evasion of Western sanctions related to Ukraine. Beijing has of course vehemently denied all of this, blasting the allegations as but the more Washington "misinformation" and "mudslinging".
"The absence of denunciation by China of what Russia is doing . . . flies in the face . . . of everything China stands for, including the basic principles of the UN Charter, including the basic principles of respect for sovereignty of nations," Psaki said. "The fact that China has not denounced what Russia is doing, in and of itself, speaks volumes." Going into the call, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said the administration hopes Xi "chooses the right side of history."
Meanwhile, within 12 hours ahead of the call, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying issued some choice words lashing out at the US administration's recent growing accusations: "If the US had truly abided by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, how could it have staged wars without remorse for the people of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq & Syria…?"
The fiery statement pivoted to this…
"On the Ukraine issue, between the US and Russia, there are scores of countries besides China that are drawing independent conclusions, trying to deescalate the situation, encouraging peace talks in deeds as well as words, and protecting their legitimate rights and interests."
"Ukrainian people need peace and security instead of weapons and ammunition" she added. And more…
— Hua Chunying ??? (@SpokespersonCHN) March 18, 2022
Just ahead of the Friday morning call, one insightful market commentator underscored just how high the stakes are in the scenario that relations unravel further over the Russia-Ukraine crisis… "I cannot help myself but to editorialize here and say this is a profound diplomatic misstep, one that pushes China into the arms of Russia — creating an alliance between two Asian nations that are perfectly fit for one another — with Russia providing natural resources and materials and China manpower and technology. The hubris of American diplomacy to demand China to heel before US policy in Ukraine could end up being a total disaster."
Perhaps entirely to be expected, hours before the Biden-Xi call state-run Global Times went on the attack over White House "smear" tactics, writing the following scathing critique of Biden's handling of China over Ukraine:
Not surprisingly, before the phone talk, some US officials have intensively made irresponsible remarks and spread disinformation to smear China and pressure it over the Ukraine issue. Such deeds have become "common practices" of the US before high-level interactions, which are irresponsible and immoral, said the official.
The English language op-ed added, "China will never accept US threats and coercion, and if the US takes measures that harm China's legitimate interests and the interests of Chinese enterprises and individuals, China will not sit idly by and will make a strong response, the official stressed, noting the US should not have any illusions or miscalculations about this."
"Every damn thing I said…"
CHINA: President Biden jokes that President Xi Jinping "remembers every damn thing I've said, unfortunately" ahead of his call with the Chinese leader tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/CcOKewSr5j
— Forbes (@Forbes) March 18, 2022
More from China state pundits…
You arrogant people underestimate China's strategic determination. China will not follow the US and the West to sanction Russia. Stop your wishful thinking. China respects the US, and China's independent foreign policy also needs to be respected.
— Hu Xijin ??? (@HuXijin_GT) March 18, 2022
Officially the White House has described the focus of the call as about "managing the competition between our two countries as well as Russia's war against Ukraine and other issues of mutual concern." The last time Biden and Xi spoke was during their three-and-a-half hour virtual summit last November, which reportedly resulted in no breakthroughs, according to statements from both sides.