Updated Mar 18, 2022 - World

Biden and Xi hold first call since Russia invaded Ukraine

Biden and Xi hold a virtual summit last November. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty

President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke for nearly two hours on Friday in a video call that came as the U.S. tries to convince Beijing to distance itself from Russia's war in Ukraine.

Why it matters: It was the first call between the leaders since Russia invaded Ukraine. Biden "described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians," according to a White House readout of the call.

What they're saying: Biden "underscored his support for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis," according to the White House.

  • Xi told Biden that "conflict and confrontation are not in anyone’s interest," and that the Ukraine crisis was "not something we want to see," according to China's Foreign Ministry.
  • A senior U.S. official described the call as "direct, candid, detailed and very substantive," but that Biden did not specifically request that Xi push Vladimir Putin to end the war.

The big picture: China has not publicly condemned or defended its most powerful partner's invasion of Ukraine, but Chinese officials and state media have largely put the blame on the U.S. and the West.

  • The FT reports that China has shown willingness to provide Russia with weapons, raising fears of a superpower proxy war with the U.S. and China arming either side in Ukraine. Chinese officials denied having received any request for arms from Moscow, and there are no indications that any such efforts have been set in motion.
  • In an "intense" seven-hour meeting with China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi on Monday in Rome — which appears to have set the stage for Friday's call — national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned of "consequences" if Beijing materially supports Russia's war in Ukraine, a senior U.S. official briefed reporters.
  • Ahead of Friday's call, Secretary of State Tony Blinken said Biden would “make clear that China will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia’s aggression, and we will not hesitate to impose costs.”

What to watch: The approach of Chinese state media has shifted in recent days, analysts note, to include more coverage of Russian attacks, civilian casualties, and speeches by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

  • A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday that China was “deeply grieved by the increasing number of civilian casualties" and called for a ceasefire, per the New York Times.

Worth noting: The White House said Biden and Xi had "agreed on the importance of maintaining open lines of communication." The two leaders also discussed Taiwan, and Biden said U.S. policy had not changed.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the White House's readout of the call.

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