China is not party to Ukraine war and does not want sanctions to hurt it: Foreign Minister Wang Yi

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing has been promoting peace talks "in its own way" since the beginning of the crisis. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING/WASHINGTON - China is not involved in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and does not want sanctions to affect it, said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in one of the most direct statements to date over the impact the war may have on its interests.

During a phone call with his Spanish counterpart Jose Manuel Albares Bueno on Monday (March 14), Mr Wang said Beijing has been promoting peace talks "in its own way" since the beginning of the crisis, and blamed certain unnamed countries for "smearing" China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesmen have denied news reports citing unnamed US officials claiming that Beijing had shared US intelligence on Russia's imminent attack on Ukraine with President Vladimir Putin, and had also asked the Russian leader to delay plans for the invasion until after the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Unnamed US officials have also been quoted in the the media as saying that Russia had sought military help from China, an allegation Beijing dismissed as disinformation.

The Kremlin has also said that Russia has enough resources to win the war in Ukraine.

"China is not a party directly involved in the crisis, and it doesn't want to be affected by sanctions even more," Mr Wang was quoted as saying in a Foreign Ministry statement on the Monday phone call released the day later.

"China has the right to safeguard its legitimate and lawful rights and interests," he said.

The phone call came on the same day a high-level meeting was taking place in Rome between top-level Chinese and US officials.

China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi met US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan for more than seven hours on Monday.

A readout by the White House said that both sides had talked about a range of issues in bilateral relations, with "substantial discussion of Russia's war against Ukraine".

A post-meeting briefing by a US official suggested Mr Sullivan had warned Beijing against aiding in the Russian campaign in Ukraine.

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"We do have deep concerns about China's alignment with Russia at this time, and the National Security Adviser was direct about those concerns and the potential implications and consequences of certain actions," a senior Biden administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters on Tuesday.

The official stressed that the meeting between Mr Sullivan and Mr Yang had been planned for months, since US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met virtually in November.

She said the meeting was not about negotiating specific issues or outcomes, but about a candid, direct exchange of views and responsibly managing the competition between the two superpowers.

The official Xinhua news agency made only a single brief mention of the Ukraine issue when it carried the Chinese statement on the talks which focused largely instead on China-US relations and managing the differences between them, particularly over Taiwan.

"China and the United States should strengthen dialogue and cooperation, properly manage differences and prevent conflict and confrontation," Xinhua quoted Mr Yang as saying.

The two sides also exchanged views on international and regional issues including Ukraine, the Korean Peninsula, the Iran nuclear problem and Afghanistan, Xinhua added.

Washington has been increasingly concerned about Chinese support for Russia, and has sought to drive home the consequences for Beijing if it aids Moscow.

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US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo last week raised the possibility of a trade blacklist, telling The New York Times in an interview that Chinese companies that continue to export to Russia in defiance of sanctions may be blocked from using American equipment and software.

Chinese state media adopted a caustic tone in describing the Rome meeting, framing it as a call for help by the US on the Ukraine war.

"The problem that was created by the US cannot and should not be solved by China," said the hawkish Global Times in an English editorial on Tuesday.

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