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China is not calling Russia’s actions in Ukraine an invasion

Hua Chunying, spokeswoman of China's Foreign Ministry, speaks at a regular news conference, in Beijing
Hua Chunying, a representative for China’s foreign ministry.
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China has signaled it’s in no rush to join in US and Europe’s condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—or even agree that Moscow’s military operations are an “invasion.”

Russia launched military attacks on Ukraine early on Thursday (Feb. 24), with its missiles and airstrikes hitting the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and a dozen other cities in the country, killing more than 137 people, according to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. On Friday, Russian forces were on the outskirts of capital Kyiv.

During a press conference yesterday, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying sidestepped several questions asking whether Beijing sees Russia’s actions as an invasion.

“We noted that today Russia announced its launch of a special military operation in eastern Ukraine,” said Hua. “Russia’s defense ministry said that its armed forces will not conduct missile, air or artillery strikes on cities. China is closely monitoring the latest developments and calls on all sides to exercise restraint and prevent the situation from getting out of control.”

The US, the UK and the European Union have been unanimous in declaring Russia’s offensive an “invasion,” and have issued a range of sanctions on Russia.

When pressed further, Hua said:

As to the definition of “invasion,” it brings us back to how we view the current situation in Ukraine. As we have stated repeatedly, the Ukraine issue has very a complicated historical background and context…Here is another question. Western media used the word “invasion” for Russia’s operation. When the US took illegal unilateral military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan without the mandate of the UN and caused massive civilian casualties, did you use the word “invasion” or some other word?

Still, China indicated it’s not happy with the latest evolution of the crisis. “The current situation in Ukraine is not what we would wish to see,” said Hua, and called a question about whether China had “blessed” Russia’s move “quite offensive.”

Hua also noted, in response to another question about the US’s call for countries to use their influence to defuse the situation, that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization owes Chinese people a “debt of blood” for its bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 during the war in Kosovo, which killed three Chinese journalists. Her comment became a trending topic on Weibo, where a related hashtag received over 230 million views, sparking comments supportive of Russia and criticizing Ukraine for planning to join NATO.

So far, it appears that Beijing will retain its strong ties with Russia, despite the latter’s actions in Ukraine. Yesterday, China lifted all restrictions on wheat imports from Russia, part of a series of deals China signed with Russian president Vladmir Putin during his visit to Beijing early this month, a move that could help Russian finances in the face of sanctions.

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