The Columbus Dispatch

China avoids condemning Russia, will import wheat

- Joe Mcdonald

BEIJING – China called Thursday for talks to resolve the Ukraine crisis and avoided criticizin­g President Vladimir Putin’s attack while, in a step that could blunt the impact of Western sanctions, Beijing also approved imports of Russian wheat.

Chinese ties with Russia have grown stronger under President Xi Jinping, who met Putin this month in Beijing. China’s multibilli­on-dollar purchases of Russian gas for its energy-hungry economy have been a lifeline to Putin, who already was under Western sanctions over its 2014 seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

China is the only major government to refrain from condemning Putin’s attack. But it tempered that by calling for restraint and respect for national sovereignt­y.

“We still hope that the parties concerned will not shut the door to peace and engage instead in dialogue and consultati­on and prevent the situation from further escalating,” said a foreign ministry spokespers­on, Hua Chunying.

Xi’s government echoes Russian frustratio­n with what they say is unfair American dominance of global affairs and Moscow’s rejection of the eastward expansion of NATO, the U.s.-european military alliance.

Beijing has blamed Washington and its European allies for the conflict over Ukraine.

“All parties should work for peace instead of escalating the tension or hyping up the possibilit­y of war,” Hua said.

After their meeting, Xi and Putin issued a statement endorsing key foreign policy issues for both sides – Moscow’s opposition to a NATO expansion in former Soviet republics and China’s claim to the self-ruled island of Taiwan.

Moscow’s attack has thrust Beijing into a conflict between its partnershi­p with Putin and its sensitivit­y about respect for national borders due to its anxiety about holding onto restive areas such as Tibet and Xinjiang.

Li Xin, director of the Institute of European and Asian Studies at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law,

said the West forced Russia to take action with NATO’S expansion and the deployment of a missile defense system.

“On the one hand, we respect territoria­l integrity and the sovereignt­y of Ukraine, but on the other hand, we must consider the historical process of the situation where Russia has been pushed into a corner and forced to counteratt­ack,” Li said.

China hasn’t endorsed Putin’s recognitio­n of independen­ce of eastern Ukraine’s separatist areas or his decision to send in soldiers, but Hua said Beijing “called on parties to respect others’ legitimate security concerns.”

At a conference in Germany last weekend, Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused the United States of “stirring up antagonism.” However, Wang said the “sovereignt­y, independen­ce and territoria­l integrity of any country should be respected.” He added, “Ukraine is no exception.”

Western trade and financial sanctions on Russia would strengthen Beijing in their relationsh­ip by increasing China’s importance as an export market and source of investment.

On Thursday, China’s customs agency approved imports of wheat from all regions of Russia, giving Putin an alternativ­e to Western markets that might be closed under possible sanctions.

Russia is one of the world’s biggest wheat producers.

 ?? VITALY TIMKIV/AP FILE ?? In a move that could reduce the impact of Western sanctions against Moscow, China approved imports of Russian wheat.
VITALY TIMKIV/AP FILE In a move that could reduce the impact of Western sanctions against Moscow, China approved imports of Russian wheat.

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