The Chinese government is “extremely concerned” about the ongoing military conflict in Ukraine and the toll the conflict has taken on Ukrainian civilians, according to Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s remarks during a call with his Ukrainian counterpart.
The call, which took place on Wednesday morning, was described in a readout released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. According to the statement, Wang “deplore[d] the outbreak of conflict between Ukraine and Russia and urged both sides to make peace. The Chinese statement was notable because it described the situation in Ukraine as a “war,” rather than a “Russian military intervention,” the description of the conflict that the Kremlin has used in its state-aligned domestic media outlets. Until now, China’s state-influenced media outlets have followed the same pattern, avoiding terms that could fault Moscow for initiating the violence.
In the two dignitaries’ remarks, Ukrainian minister of foreign affairs Dmytro Kuleba also underlined Kyiv’s interest in expanding its ties with China, citing the possibility of Chinese mediation toward a ceasefire in the country.
As both Russia and Ukraine’s largest trading partner, China has pursued a nuanced stance on the conflict. While it has condemned the violence and pushed for a speedy resolution, it has also avoided blaming Russia directly for invading its western neighbor. Instead, many Chinese media outlets have blamed the United States and NATO for allegedly attempting to spread their influence eastward through the expansion of NATO into areas traditionally regarded as within Russia’s sphere of influence.
The Russian invasion, which conflicts with China’s public support for states’ territorial integrity and pursuit of peaceful commercial interests, seems to have tested the relationship between Beijing and Moscow. While Chinese leaders have offered tacit support for Russia in public—adhering to the “no limits” relationship between the two countries outlined in early February 2022—and have refused to participate in Western international sanctions designed to isolate Russia, they have also reportedly pushed the Kremlin to negotiate a settlement to end the war behind closed doors.
At the onset of the war, around 6,000 Chinese citizens were present in Ukraine, the majority of whom were international students studying in Ukrainian universities. Since then, around 2,500 have been evacuated, according to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin. It is unknown if any Chinese citizens have been killed in the conflict, although at least one has been injured.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.