Biden-Xi appeal: 5 reasons why he’s so important amid the Russian-Ukrainian war

The White House said after the call that Biden “outlined the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia.”

“The president underscored his support for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis,” the White House said. The White House said Biden and Xi agreed to keep “open lines of communication.”

Conflict and confrontation are in no one’s interest, Xi told Biden at the start of the call, according to Chinese state media.

“Peace and security are the most precious treasures of the international community,” CCTV quoted Xi as saying on the call.

White House officials said before the call they expected it to get intense; a preliminary meeting between aides to the two leaders lasted seven hours earlier this week. And Biden upped the ante when he hinted at his call a day in advance, saying his Chinese counterpart “doesn’t believe democracies can be sustained in the 21st century.”

1. The call came at a critical time in the Russian-Ukrainian war

Biden spoke with Xi at a key moment. According to US officials, China is considering providing military or financial aid to Russia, which has requested it as its army suffers major losses in Ukraine. If China agrees, it could weaken its relationship with the West for decades to come.

“We are concerned that they are considering directly assisting Russia with military equipment for use in Ukraine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday, confirming what other U.S. officials had been warning for decades. days.

Already, the United States has told some NATO allies it believes China is willing to support Russia, although Moscow denies asking for it and Beijing says it is not providing any help.

US officials say they believe Xi was unsettled by Russia’s invasion and the performance of the Russian military, which has suffered logistical and strategic setbacks since the invasion began more than two years ago. weeks.

Watching from Beijing, Xi was taken aback by the fact that his own intelligence services had been unable to predict what would happen, even though the United States had warned of an invasion for weeks. , officials said.

2. China could provide Russia with a range of support

US officials do not think China would be willing to supply Russia with large offensive equipment like tanks or jets. Instead, officials said they believe China is more likely to send smaller items like meals, ammunition, spare parts or surveillance equipment – ​​if they send anything. it would be.

Officials said there is still a possibility that China will help Russia mitigate the effects of withering Western sanctions through financial support, although the country is unlikely to be able to fully mitigate the effects. American and European measures.

In their phone call, Biden hoped to make clear to Xi the downsides of helping Russia war, whether through military or financial assistance. It was to “make it clear that China will take responsibility for any action it takes to support Russia’s aggression and we will not hesitate to impose costs,” Blinken said ahead of the call.

It is widely believed that Xi will secure a historic third term in power at the Communist Party’s 20th National Congress in Beijing this fall. In such an important year, Western experts believe Xi will be particularly alert to the economic risks posed by secondary sanctions. Trade between the European Union and China exceeded $800 billion last year and U.S.-China trade exceeded $750 billion, according to official Chinese data, while its trade with Russia was just under $150 billion.
Still, there remains an ongoing debate within the administration about what action to take against China should it decide to help Russia. Biden and his administration have declined to publicly discuss exactly what options they are considering, but warned there would be “consequences” for China if they backed Russia.

3. The United States must manage a “cold-blooded” partnership between Russia and China

Even before Russia invaded Ukraine, US officials watched warily as Putin and Xi grew closer. CIA Director Bill Burns said last week that the partnership was rooted in “a lot of very cold reasons.”

The two leaders said their relationship had “no limits” in a lengthy document in February, when Putin traveled to Beijing for talks and to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. The document saw China deflecting Russia’s central demand to the West, with both sides “opposed to further NATO enlargement”.

Since then, the boundless partnership has been tested as Xi ponders how to respond to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Beijing’s evolving response – from denying that an invasion would succeed to trying to avoid Western condemnation by portraying itself as willing to mediate – has been closely watched by the White House.

US officials have seen mixed signals. When China abstained in a United Nations vote of reprimand against Russia, it was seen as a sign of Beijing distancing itself. And a senior Chinese official said last month that Ukraine’s sovereignty must be respected.

But other signs point to a more dovish stance, including China’s amplification of Russian disinformation. And senior U.S. officials said the lack of whistleblowing was enough indication of China’s allegiance.

“We believe China in particular has a responsibility to use its influence with President Putin and uphold the international rules and principles that it claims to support,” Blinken said Thursday. “Instead, it appears China is moving in the opposite direction by refusing to condemn this aggression while seeking to present itself as a neutral arbiter.”

4. US allies in Asia are closely watching China’s reaction to the war on Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – undermining its sovereignty and plunging Europe into its worst conflict in decades – has caused waves of anxiety around the world. One place to watch closely is Taiwan, the self-governing island claimed by China.

Beijing recently stepped up military flights near the island and warned against US support. In the early days of the Ukrainian conflict, it was feared that the Russian invasion would portend a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, although it did not appear to be imminent.

US officials have since played down the parallels, saying the united response to Russia could cause China to rethink its plans for Taiwan. Russia’s invasion galvanized not only the West and NATO, but also Asia-Pacific countries — an outcome that US intelligence believed Xi was unprepared for, assuming instead that economic interests would prevent countries from imposing severe sanctions.

Even some members of Biden’s own national security team were surprised at how quickly some US allies in Asia, including Japan and Australia, were prepared to impose sanctions on Russia after its invasion.

5. Biden and Xi have long histories and very different worldviews

Biden likes to cite the long hours he spent with Xi when both were vice presidents of their countries. He claimed to have spent more time with Xi than any other world leader.

Yet they haven’t met in person since Biden took office and Xi hasn’t left China during the Covid pandemic. That left them meeting at web conferences or talking on the phone, a dynamic Biden said he didn’t find ideal.

He and his team worked to establish a controlled competition policy with China. They left in place tariffs imposed by former President Donald Trump and criticized China for failing to meet its commitments under a Trump-era trade deal.

Prior to the conflict in Ukraine, Biden seemed determined to refocus US foreign policy toward Asia, where he sees competition between the United States and China as a defining challenge of the next century.

And while the Ukraine crisis has preoccupied the White House in recent weeks, officials insist they are still able to maintain their dominant view.

CNN’s Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.

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