WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US President Joe Biden on Thursday (Feb 24) said any country that backed Russia's onslaught in Ukraine would be "stained by association," after China rejected calling Moscow's move an invasion and instead urged all sides to exercise restraint.
Ukrainian forces battled Russian invaders on three sides after Moscow mounted an assault on Ukraine by land, sea and air in the biggest attack on a European state since World War II.
Mr Biden, speaking to reporters at the White House where he unveiled tough new sanctions on Russia coordinated with allies, said Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions represented a dangerous moment for freedom around the world.
"Putin will be a pariah on the international stage. Any nation that countenances Russia's naked aggression against Ukraine will be stained by association," Mr Biden said without naming China.
Asked if he was urging China to isolate Russia, Mr Biden said: "I'm not prepared to comment on that at the moment."
Mr Biden said Mr Putin's action "betrays a sinister vision for a future of our world; one where nations take what they want by force."
Some geopolitical analysts said Russia's action could embolden China over Taiwan, an island Beijing regards as a renegade province to be reunified, by force if necessary.
Russia attacked Ukraine three weeks after Mr Putin met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in the run-up to the Beijing Winter Olympics that ended on Sunday. The two announced a strategic partnership aimed at countering US influence and said they would have "no 'forbidden' areas of cooperation".
Ahead of Mr Biden's remarks on Ukraine, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called on "all sides to exercise restraint to prevent the situation from getting out of control," but bridled at journalists' characterisation of Russia's actions.
"This is perhaps a difference between China and you Westerners. We won't go rushing to a conclusion," she said.
"Regarding the definition of an invasion, I think we should go back to how to view the current situation in Ukraine. The Ukrainian issue has other very complicated historical background that has continued to today. It may not be what everyone wants to see."
The ministry said later that senior diplomat Wang Yi, also China's foreign minister, had spoken with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
Mr Wang said that the Ukraine issue had a "complex" history and reiterated that China understands what it called Russia's"legitimate concerns" on security, the ministry said.
Mr Xi and Mr Putin have developed a close partnership, but Russia's actions in Ukraine put China, which has an oft-stated foreign policy principle of non-interference, in an awkward position, international relations experts said.
On Wednesday, a US State Department spokesperson accused China and Russia of working together to create a new "profoundly illiberal" world order, of which Moscow's actions towards Ukraine were just a part.
Washington has warned Chinese firms they would face consequences if they sought to evade export controls imposed on Moscow.
A senior official in the Biden administration told reporters on Thursday that China had seemed to go close to endorsing Russia's actions and many countries would be watching how Beijing votes when the a UN Security Council considers a resolution on the issue on Friday.
The official said Russia's actions "carry risks for China along with everyone else" and added: "It's not in China's interest to endorse a devastating conflict in Europe and defy the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity it claims to hold dear."
China's embassy in Kyiv warned that the situation in Ukraine had deteriorated sharply and security risks had risen, with social order potentially descending into chaos.
China has so far stopped short of telling its 6,000 citizens in Ukraine to consider leaving. An embassy security advisory earlier this week advised them to stock up on necessities.