China calls conflict in Ukraine a 'war' for the first time

·2-min read
An honour guard holds a Russia flag during preparations for a welcome ceremony for Russian President Vladimir Putin outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in 2018 - JASON LEE /REUTERS
An honour guard holds a Russia flag during preparations for a welcome ceremony for Russian President Vladimir Putin outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in 2018 - JASON LEE /REUTERS

China described the situation in Ukraine a “war” for the first time since Russia invaded nearly two weeks ago, marking a change in how Beijing has publicly spoken about the unfolding crisis.

“We hope to see fighting and the war stop as soon as possible,” foreign minister Wang Yi said in a call with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, according to a state broadcaster.

Mr Wang called for calm on all sides, and for more actions to be taken to prevent escalation in Ukraine.

China has refused to call Russia’s attack on Ukraine an “invasion” and has yet to condemn Moscow for its actions.

Beijing has been careful not to criticise Russia, likely given its strong ties to Moscow – a relationship described by Mr Wang as “rock-solid” earlier this week.

Instead, China has tried to claim neutrality, consistently calling for negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, without taking concrete measures to support mediation.

China said this week that it would send 5 million yuan (£600,750) in humanitarian aid to Ukraine – a drop in the bucket for the world’s second-largest economy.

The announcement was likely an effort to rehabilitate its reputation on the world stage for failing to denounce Russia.

Chinese state media has only touted Beijing’s stance, refraining from criticising Russia, refusing to use the terms “war” and “invasion,” and amplifying Moscow’s propaganda.

Government censors have also been working overtime to scrub mentions online that are pro-Ukraine.

One question looming is what level of support China may choose to offer its neighbour, Russia, to mitigate the impact of sanctions.

Helping Russia would open Beijing up to being targeted with secondary sanctions. But assisting Moscow at this moment could possibly also allow Beijing to bank in future favours.

Still, experts largely think the risk of being hit by sanctions as well will prompt China to err on the side of caution.

The first sign of this came on Thursday when China refused to supply Russian airlines with aircraft parts, an official at Russia’s aviation authority was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

Boeing and Airbus have halted supply of components, in line with global sanctions.

Russia’s foreign ministry warned this week that the safety of Russian passenger flights were under threat.

Listen to Sophia Yan on how the conflict is being censored by Beijing in our daily Ukraine podcast

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