Officials in China have expressed their displeasure at Russia’s actions in Ukraine, including Vladimir Putin’s non-disclosure of his plans to invade, and condemned the "irresponsibility" of suggested nuclear threats ahead of the G20 summit in Indonesia.
Mr Putin did not tell his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping “the truth”, reported the Financial Times citing a Chinese official, who said that the two leaders had hailed a “no limits” alliance between Moscow and Beijing when they met just 20 days before the Kremlin launched its invasion on Ukraine in February.
“If he had told us, we wouldn’t have been in such an awkward position,” the official said.
Mr Xi was caught off-guard by the invasion of Ukraine, which Russia still describes as a “special military operation”, according to four people briefed on the February meeting between the two leaders.
China resents the fact that this non-disclosure from Moscow threatened the safety of thousands of Chinese nationals who were in Ukraine at the time war broke out.
The official was quoted by the FT as saying that Beijing “had more than 6,000 Chinese nationals living in Ukraine and some of them died during the evacuation [although] we can’t make that public”.
The Russian president admitted last month that he did not inform his “close friend” Mr Xi of the plans to invade Ukraine in February, but nonetheless insisted the strength of their relationship was “unprecedented”.
Mr Putin will be absent from the global summit of G20 leaders in tropical Bali this week, instead being represented by his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
And also speaking on the eve of the G20 gathering, Chinese premier Li Keqiang underlined the "irresponsibility" of nuclear threats as he appeared during another summit in Cambodia. The comments are an indication that Beijing is uncomfortable with its strategic partner Russia’s nuclear rhetoric, a senior US official said on Monday.
Mr Li was participating in the East Asia Summit on Sunday where he "spoke rather extensively about China’s policy towards Ukraine," a senior US administration official said, as he briefed reporters ahead of a summit between Mr Biden and Mr Xi on Monday.
The top Chinese official "put clear emphasis on sovereignty, on the irresponsibility of nuclear threats, [and] the need to ensure that nuclear weapons are not used in the way that some have suggested," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Mr Putin last met his Chinese counterpart during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) leaders’ summit in Samarkand in September this year.
In the last eight months of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has been accused of making irresponsible statements on the possible use of nuclear weapons.
The US official said there was "undeniably some discomfort in Beijing about what we’ve seen in terms of reckless rhetoric and activity on the part of Russia," despite a formal partnership with Moscow. "I think it is also undeniable that China is probably both surprised and even a little bit embarrassed by the conduct of Russian military operations," the official said.
The G20 summit in Indonesia – one of the biggest gatherings of world leaders since the start of the pandemic – will be unfolding in the shadows of geopolitical tensions triggered by the eight-month old war in Ukraine which has torpedoed trade in oil, natural gas and grain.
Sustainable energy, renewed focus on climate crisis policies, digital transformation and health are among the topics up for discussion.