China pushes ‘direct’ negotiations between Russia and Ukraine as war rages on

Beijing urged direct negotiations between Russia and Ukraine during a Saturday meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his US counterpart Antony Blinken as the war entered its tenth day after the invasion of Moscow.

The exchange was the first phone call between the country’s top diplomats since the start of hostilities marked by heavy Russian bombing and fierce resistance from Ukrainian fighters holding the capital Kiev.

China has taken a cautious diplomatic line since the start of the conflict, refusing to condemn Moscow’s actions after touting a borderless friendship between the two countries last month.

On Saturday, Wang told Foreign Minister Blinken: “We encourage direct negotiations between Russia and Ukraine,” a statement from China’s foreign ministry said.

“We hope that the fighting will stop as soon as possible … and that a large-scale humanitarian crisis will be avoided,” Wang added, admitting that the negotiations between the two countries will not “go smoothly”.

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Blinken, meanwhile, said the world is “watching to see which countries are championing the basic principles of freedom, self-determination and sovereignty,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

“The world is acting in unison to reject and respond to Russian aggression and ensure that Moscow will pay a heavy price,” Blinken said.

But while the US and numerous other countries have imposed a wide range of sanctions against Moscow, China has not yet labeled the crisis as a war.

Wang reiterated the complexity of the issue on Saturday, saying it was “closely related to the security interests of all parties”.

He added that the US, NATO, the European Union and Russia should engage in a dialogue and “pay attention to the negative impact of NATO’s ongoing eastward expansion on Russia’s security environment” – a key Russian topic of discussion.

According to the latest UN data, nearly 1.37 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion began.

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