US President Joe Biden detailed “implications and consequences” to China should Chinese President Xi Jinping provide “material support” to Russia as Russian forces continues an assault against Ukraine, according to a White House description of the call between the two men.
A White House readout of the two-hour call on 18 March – days after President Biden characterised Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal” – said the US president detailed American efforts “to prevent and then respond to the invasion, including by imposing costs on Russia.”
The president “described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians,” while underscoring US support for a “diplomatic resolution to the crisis,” according to the White House.
A senior administration official characterised the call as “direct, substantive and detailed.”
The official told reporters following the call that President Biden “was candid and direct of his assessment with the situation and what he believes would be necessary in order to find a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.”
The official declined to specify penalties that the US could impose if China provided Russia with material support, nor would the official say how Mr Xi responded.
“The president really wasn’t making specific requests of China. He was laying out his assessment of the situation … and the implications of certain actions,” according to the official.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also underscored that the call largely was “focused on Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine”.
Questions to a senior administration official relating to any specific guarantees requested of China or whether Mr Xi condemned the attacks during the call were directed to the readout from Chinese officials.
“China has to make a decision for themselves where they stand,” Ms Psaki said on Friday.
President Biden also “stressed concerns … that Russia is spreading disinformation about biological weapons in Ukraine as a pretext for a false flag operation and underscored concerns about echoing such disinformation,” according to the administration official.
A readout of the call released by the Chinese foreign ministry reported Mr Xi as noting “new major developments in the international landscape” since the two leaders first met virtually in November 2021.
The statement said what China described as “the Ukraine crisis” was “not something we want to see”.
“The events again show that countries should not come to the point of meeting on the battlefield,” according to the statement. “Conflict and confrontation are not in anyone’s interest, and peace and security are what the international community should treasure the most.”
Chinese officials released a description of the call immediately following the leaders’ call, while the Biden administration released a readout several hours later. Ms Psaki said the delay was in effort to protect diplomatic channels.
The call was part of what Biden administration officials described as “ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication” between the world’s two largest economies.
In February, Mr Xi and Mr Putin announced their respective nations had entered into a “no limits” partnership meant as a counterweight to alliances between the US and other democracies such as Nato.
But it’s unclear whether Beijing has deemed assistance with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to be part of that partnership, though Moscow is reported to have asked China for weapons and other military materiel, including ready-to-eat meals for troops.
China’s description of the call said the leaders discussed tensions between the US and China over Taiwan, with Mr Xi appearing to discourage the US from promoting Taiwanese independence.
The leaders discussed the “importance of managing competition between the two countries”, according to the senior administration official, and agreed to direct their respective administrations “to follow up in the days and weeks ahead.”