President Joe Biden’s administration reportedly tried over the course of three months to get China to help dissuade Russia from attacking Ukraine, including by sharing secret intelligence on Russia’s troop buildup.
On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported U.S. officials said the Biden administration held several meetings with top Chinese officials, including the foreign minister and the Chinese ambassador to the U.S., in an effort to get China to recognize the danger Russia posed to Ukraine and to help pressure Russia to avoid conflict.
The diplomatic effort didn’t stop Russia and reportedly backfired when China went on to share the intelligence with Russia.
After one of the diplomatic exchanges in December, U.S. intelligence officials reportedly learned the Chinese government had shared the U.S. intelligence with Russia and told Russia that the U.S. was attempting to sow disagreement between China and Russia. The Chinese side also sought to reassure Russia that it would not try to impede Russian actions in Ukraine.
Officially, the Chinese government has neither supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nor outright condemned it. Earlier this week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi instead called for all sides to “exercise restraint.” Wang did call for the sides involved in the Ukraine conflict to consider “legitimate security concerns” echoing Russian calls for commitments from NATO not to expand further east or allow Ukraine into the alliance
The Washington Post has assessed that China is likely wary of fully supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as China often cites issues of sovereignty in response to criticisms of its actions in its territories, such as Hong Kong and Xinjiang. The Washington Post said China likely wants to foster its ties with Russia, but avoid further deteriorating already strained relations with the west.
Several communications have leaked from Chinese state-media accounts, showcasing the instructions they are under to manage their relations with both Russia and the west. Horizon News, a subsidiary of the state-run Beijing Times, appeared to accidentally post official Chinese government instructions on Wednesday which stated Chinese media outlets are not to make posts unfavorable to Russia or favorable to Western assessments of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
“Beijing News social media account accidentally posts its own censorship orders from high up: ban on posts that are ‘not positive toward Russia or positive toward West,’ all user comments must be carefully screened and slowly posted,” Washington Post India Bureau Chief Gerry Shih tweeted. “P.S. social media guy: you had one job.”
“Comments must be selectively moderated, and only appropriate comments must be published,” the accidentally published instructions also said. “Anyone publishing content will be deemed responsible for it, and genuine care must be taken. Each post much be watched for at least two days, and great care must be taken when handing over [to the incoming shift].”
Ming Jinwei, a commentator and senior editor for Xinhua — the official Chinese state press agency — also said in his official WeChat blog, “Simply put, China has to back Russia up with emotional and moral support while refraining from treading on the toes of the United States and European Union.”
In his WeChat post, Ming further explained the need to provide subtle support to Russia in its actions in Ukraine, saying, “In the future, China will also need Russia’s understanding and support when wrestling with America to solve the Taiwan issue once and for all.” His comments may refer to an outright Chinese invasion of Taiwan, which China considers as part of its territory.
On Thursday, after Russian forces launched their full attack on Ukraine, Chinese officials refused to classify Russia’s attack on Ukraine as an “invasion” and blamed the U.S. for Russia’s attack.
During a news conference on Thursday, China’s assistant foreign minister, Hua Chunying, was asked multiple times if she would consider Russia’s assault on Ukraine an invasion, but she refused to answer the question.
Instead, Hua suggested the U.S. was to blame for the attacks.
“The U.S. has been fueling the flame, fanning up the flame, how do they want to put out the fire?” she said.