China’s top diplomat visits Moscow ahead of anniversary of Russia’s Ukraine invasion
China’s top diplomat Wang Yi arrived in Moscow on Tuesday, Russian state media reported, in the first visit to Russia by a Chinese official in that role since the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began nearly a year ago.
Wang, who was named Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s top foreign policy adviser last month, is making the high-profile visit as the final stop in an eight-day international tour that included visits to France, Italy, and Hungary, as well as Germany for a security conference.
He will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday, Russian state media TASS reported, citing the Russian foreign ministry. While neither country has specified whether Wang will hold talks with President Vladimir Putin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that “we do not exclude” such a meeting.
Wang’s trip comes after US President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Monday in a show of support for the embattled country, which Washington and its European allies have rallied together to back over the past year through both military and humanitarian aid, and economic sanctions against Russia.
The diplomat arrived in Moscow just days after US officials went public with concerns about how China’s continuing partnership with Russia could have an impact on the war in Ukraine.
The Chinese leadership has claimed impartiality in the conflict but refused to condemn Russia’s invasion, instead expanding trade ties and continuing joint military exercises, including this week.
But during engagements in European cities in recent days, Wang built on China’s framing of itself as a proponent of peace and negotiation, saying at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) on Saturday that Beijing would release its position on a “political settlement” of the crisis.
Those remarks were met with suspicion from some Western leaders who are closely watching for any support China lends to its northern neighbor, especially that which crosses certain “red lines” articulated by Washington.
US warns China could supply Russia with ‘lethal support’
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration had concerns that Beijing is considering stepping up its partnership with Moscow by supplying the Russian military with “lethal support” as Russia prepares for an expected new offensive.
“We’ve been watching this very closely,” Blinken told CBS’ “Face the Nation” from the MSC in an interview that aired Sunday. “The concern that we have now is based on information we have that they’re considering providing lethal support, and we’ve made very clear to them that that would cause a serious problem for us and in our relationship.”
Blinken also warned Wang “about the implications and consequences” if China increases its support for Russia’s war effort, during a meeting between the two on the sidelines of the conference, according to a US readout.
A senior State Department official told reporters that Blinken “was quite blunt in warning about the implications and consequences of China providing material support to Russia or assisting Russia with systematic sanctions evasion.”
US officials familiar with the intelligence told CNN earlier Saturday that the US has recently begun seeing “disturbing” trendlines in China’s support for Russia’s military and there are signs that Beijing wants to “creep up to the line” of providing lethal military aid to Russia without getting caught.
Those officials would not describe in detail what intelligence the US has seen suggesting a recent shift in China’s posture, but said US officials have been concerned enough that they have shared the intelligence with allies and partners in Munich over the last several days.
At the MSC, Wang said China was “deeply concerned” by the extended crisis and was not adding “fuel to the fire” – a phrase Beijing’s diplomats have used in the past to accuse the US of perpetuating the conflict. China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday said the US, not China, was the one sending a “steady stream of weapons to the battlefield.”
Wang did not mention the trip to Russia during his prepared remarks or a following live-streamed conversation Saturday on the main stage of the Munich conference, when he was asked by MSC Foundation Council President Wolfgang Ischinger if China was prepared to act on “its position that it respects the territorial integrity” of Ukraine and if so, how.
In meetings with European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, during the earlier phase of his tour last week, Wang stressed China’s commitment to peace talks and an end to the war. The tour was seen as part of China’s bid to bolster its ties with Europe, where analysts say Beijing’s image has been damaged in the past year due to its ties with Moscow.
A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry said last Monday that Wang’s visit to Moscow would provide an opportunity for China and Russia to continue to develop their strategic partnership and “exchange views” on “international and regional hotspot issues of shared interest” – a catch-all phrase often used to allude to topics including the war in Ukraine.
“China is ready to take this visit as an opportunity and work with Russia to promote steady growth of bilateral relations in the direction identified by the two heads of state, defend the legitimate rights and interests of both sides, and play an active role for world peace,” the spokesman said.
Wang’s visit may also foreshadow a state visit by Xi to Moscow later this year. Putin extended an invitation to Xi during a customary end-of-year call between the two leaders, but China’s Foreign Ministry has yet to confirm any plans.
In an editorial Tuesday, state-run nationalist tabloid the Global Times hailed the friendship between China and Russia as “a positive asset of the world,” and accused some in the West of attempting to use the conflict in Ukraine to “hijack” Sino-Russian relations.
“The United States has viewed the friendly relations between China and Russia with thick tinted glasses from the very beginning,” it said. “In fact, no matter whether the conflict between Russia and Ukraine broke out, the US does not want to see China and Russia develop close relations. The suspicion, provocation and sabotage from Washington have never ceased.”