Blinken Tells China: ‘It’s Pretty Hard to Be Neutral’ on Ukraine

Source: : 2022-07-10 01:11:27 : The New York Times

Credit…Pool photo by Stefani Reynolds

NUSA DUA, Indonesia — The battle in Ukraine shifted to a geopolitical front on Saturday, as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with the Chinese foreign minister at the end of a Group of 20 summit in Indonesia, pressing him to change positions and join the United States and partners to “stand up” against Russia’s war, while also trying to ease overall tensions with Beijing.

The meeting was a test of the Biden administration’s attempt to pursue conflicting foreign policy goals. One objective is shore up alliances to constrain China; just over a week ago, it successfully pushed for a NATO mission statement to include a sharp rebuke of China, labeling its policies “coercive,” its cyberoperations “malicious” and its rhetoric “confrontational.”

But it is also trying to assemble a global effort to punish Moscow for its aggression in Ukraine — a goal that has little chance of success without cooperation from China foremost, but also from countries like India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia.

During the five-hour meeting, held on the Indonesian resort island of Bali one day after the summit of G20 foreign ministers, Mr. Blinken emphasized issues of shared interest with Beijing, including climate change and global health, while stressing the American concern with China’s alignment with Russia. It followed months of American warnings to China against sending weapons to Russia or helping Moscow evade Western sanctions imposed in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Mr. Blinken dismissed China’s claims to be neutral in the war between Russia and Ukraine as implausible. “I tried to convey to the state councilor that this really is a moment where we all have to stand up” to condemn Russian aggression, Mr. Blinken said, using the formal title for China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi.

“I would start with the proposition that it’s pretty hard to be neutral when it comes to this aggression,” Mr. Blinken said, pointing out that China’s leader, Xi Jinping, had stood by his declaration in February of a partnership with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, and had even held a joint strategic bomber exercise in May.

“There’s a clear aggressor. There’s a clear victim.”

Mr. Wang responded sharply to Mr. Blinken’s statements, urging the United States to refrain from attacking China’s political system and recycling Cold War-era strategies of containment, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s readout of the meeting. He also called on Washington to remove tariffs on Chinese products and to stop imposing sanctions on Chinese companies.

“Many people thus believe that the United States suffers from a growing ‘China phobia,’” Mr. Wang said, echoing the Kremlin’s frequent complaints about “Russophobia.” “If this ‘expanding threat’ concept is allowed to keep growing, the United States’ China policy will soon become an inescapable dead end.”

The tête-à-tête followed the gathering of foreign ministers from the Group of 20 industrialized nations that ended without a traditional communiqué, reflecting the apparent impossibility of reaching a consensus amid the war in Ukraine. At two points in the sessions, when Russia came under sharp criticism for its attack on its neighbor, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, left abruptly, according to officials, and then departed the gathering before its conclusion.

However, Mr. Lavrov sat down with several ministers from nations that have declined to join the Western-led coalition against his country, including China, India, Brazil, Turkey, Argentina and Indonesia, putting into sharp relief the Biden administration’s challenge to isolate the country and highlighting Russia’s continued success at conducting business with the outside world and funding its relentless war machine.

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