MOSCOW — Amidst the showdown over Ukraine, the United States tried in vain to pressure China into joining the international sanctions against Russia. Moscow officials have said that while other countries were trying to tie a noose of sanctions around Russia’s neck, China has unexpectedly turned out to be an "absolutely solid partner.”
And yet at the same time, officials in Washington have stated that they are pleased that China has publicly declared that Ukraine’s territorial integrity should be respected.
Diplomats on both sides of the issue have noted that China, while opting not to take a leadership role in the Ukrainian crisis, has successfully managed to maintain the good will of both the U.S. and Russia.
A Russian diplomat familiar with the situation told Kommersant about the U.S. efforts to convince China to join the sanctions, but said that China did not like the idea of punishing ordinary Russians for the Russian government’s actions.
The White House press office refused to comment on China's stance in the escalating crisis in Ukraine, but according to our sources at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, American officials have been working closely with their Chinese counterparts on the issue. The White House also hasn't hidden that Barack Obama himself has personally tried to convince the Chinese to publicly condemn the Russian actions in Crimea.
During Obama’s recent two-hour closed-door meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping, the American president made it clear that the question of Moscow’s economic and political isolation had already been decided by European leaders and the United States, said an American diplomatic source.
The same source added, however, that the U.S. never expected China to join the sanctions against Russia. “It was clear that the Chinese government was not ready for such strong actions,” he said.
One of the reasons for Beijing’s expected hesitation was not only its close relationship with Moscow diplomatically, but also because of close business relationships with several of the individuals included on the European and American blacklists.
Beijing’s current position on the Ukraine crisis appears to be a case of well-calibrated diplomacy. Beijing has not publicly criticized Russia’s actions or slapped sanctions on any individual Russian, but it has publicly declared that Ukraine’s territorial integrity has to be respected. According to Kommersant's sources, when the Russian government asked China why it had abstained from the United Nations Security Council vote on the situation in Crimea, China mentioned its own conflict with Taiwan, as well as separatists in Western China and Tibet, but also brought up the more general need to respect international law.
In spite of these comments, Moscow still considers China an ally. During Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Beijing, sources close to the delegation said that Russia is “completely satisfied” with China’s position on Ukraine. That sentiment was repeated after the meeting between high-level Russian and Chinese government officials last Friday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also added his voice to the question, affirming confidently that there is nothing surprising about China offering its support to Russia. “Our relationship is developing successfully and is better than it ever has been, in terms of our level of trust, of working together,” he said in a recent address to Russian citizens. “We are neighbors, and we are also, to a certain degree, of course, allies.”