The Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, has broken this Thursday the administrative silence ―that of “he who is silent, grants”― of his country regarding Russia’s threat to Ukraine. And it has done so to make it clear – as clear as diplomatic protocols allow, and in case there was any doubt – that Beijing’s sympathies are with Moscow. In a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Wang stated that “Russia’s security concerns must be taken into account and addressed.”
Moscow has sent letters to the US government and NATO in which it demands a written response to its proposal for an agreement that would limit the expansion in the East and the capacity of the Atlantic Alliance to act. Both Brussels and Washington refuse. But Beijing has sided with its neighbor, with which it is linked by deepening diplomatic, economic and security ties. “Regional security cannot be guaranteed by expanding a military bloc. They must put aside the Cold War mentality,” the Chinese minister told his US counterpart, according to the official statement released by Beijing.
The telephone call between those responsible for the most powerful diplomats in the world came a week before the opening of the Beijing Olympics on Friday the 4th, for which Washington and its allies have announced a diplomatic boycott. Instead, Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged his attendance, on an occasion that will allow the first face-to-face meeting between him and Chinese President Xi Jinping in more than two years.
The proximity of the Games has led to speculation that Russia, which the West accuses of having deployed more than 100,000 soldiers near the border in the face of a possible invasion, could respect the traditional Olympic truce and wait for the end of the competition to take more drastic measures towards Ukraine.
Among those who have pointed out that possibility is Blinken’s number two, Wendy Sherman. According to the Undersecretary of State, “everything indicates” that Putin “will use military force at a given time, perhaps between now and mid-February”, but the opening of the Games could influence his plans, to avoid overshadowing a sporting event with which China wants to amaze the world and demonstrate its power.
In the conversation with Blinken, Wang urged – according to the version released by his Ministry – that “all parties refrain from increasing tensions and making the crisis worsen”. In the 21st century, he argued, “there is no longer a place” for “bloc politics” and “it is necessary to establish a balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism through dialogue.”
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The Secretary of State, for his part, stressed to his interlocutor “the risks to security and to the global economy that a new Russian aggression against Ukraine would represent.”
The conversation was not limited solely to events on the southeastern flank of the former Soviet Union. Wang and Blinken also addressed the thorny bilateral relationship between their two nations and one of the main obstacles in it, the situation in Taiwan.
The Chinese minister lashed out at the United States for “not changing its policies” after the videoconference meeting last November between Xi and US President Joe Biden, “Relations continue to face new turmoil two months after the meeting,” he said. Likewise, he urged Washington to “stop playing with fire” with Taiwan, the self-governed and democratically governed island that China considers part of its territory.
China demands that the United States, among other things, stop interfering in the celebration of the Olympic Games about to open, according to Wang. “Biden assured us that the United States does not seek a new cold war, that it does not seek to change the China, which does not seek to form alliances to oppose China and does not support Taiwan’s ‘independence’. A different and positive message with respect to the previous Administration. But what the world sees now is that the tone has not matched the facts,” he said.
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