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China vows to maintain partnership with Russia despite war in Ukraine

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks during a remote video press conference held on the sidelines of the annual meeting of China's National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, on March 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- China will maintain its "strategic" and "comprehensive" partnership with Russia no matter how sinister the international situation is, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Monday despite Moscow's war with Ukraine intensifying.

    At a press conference on the sidelines of this year's session of the National People's Congress, Wang also urged other nations including the United States not to "add fuel to the fire," repeating China's opposition to tough sanctions on Russia for its attack of Ukraine.

    Wang, meanwhile, said China is "willing" to work with the international community whenever necessary to mediate over the latest crisis in apparent consideration of Ukraine, one of its key trading partners in Europe. He did not elaborate on its timing.

    China will provide emergency humanitarian aid to Ukraine through the country's Red Cross, Wang said, adding it has made an "independent" judgment of the situation and made its position clear in an "objective and fair" manner.

    His remarks underscored China's reluctance to join hands with Western nations to punish Russia when it would benefit from Russia being shunned from business and trade activities with Washington and its allies, pundits said.

    Wang reiterated China's mantra that the problem surrounding Ukraine is complex and should be resolved "through dialogue," while he shied away from mentioning that Beijing supports Moscow's military attack on the neighboring country.

    On Sunday, Russian forces shelled a nuclear research institute in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, damaging several buildings, although the Ukrainian government later said radiation levels remained unchanged in the area, the Ukrainian government said.

    The incident took place two days after Russia attacked the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe's largest nuclear power station in southern Ukraine, having already captured the Chernobyl nuclear power complex in the north.

    With tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalating, the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping has been called on by the international community to play a role in mediating a cease-fire.

    Beijing, however, has shown its understanding of Moscow's security concerns related to expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded that the Western military alliance pull back troops and weapons from Eastern Europe.

    China and the Soviet Union, Russia's predecessor state, were competitors during the Cold War. They were at loggerheads over interpretations and practical applications of Marxism-Leninism, the ideology of 20th-century communism.

    But the two countries, which have criticized the post-Cold War international order dominated by the United States, have been reinforcing relations in recent years, as their ties with Washington sharply deteriorate.

    Wang at Monday's press conference lambasted the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden for "playing geopolitical games" and creating an "exclusive club," referring to Washington's Indo-Pacific strategy designed to counter China's growing assertiveness in the region.

    Amid mounting fears that China might invade self-ruled Taiwan while the United States is focused on the evolving situation in Eastern Europe, Wang emphasized that the problems on Ukraine and the island are fundamentally different.

    Taiwan is "China's internal affairs" as the island is an "inalienable part" of the nation, but the Russia-Ukraine war is a "conflict" between sovereign states, Wang said.

    China has regarded Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary. The Communist-led mainland and the democratic island have been governed separately since they split in 1949 following a civil war.

    For Japan, Wang said he has advice and said China asks its neighbor not to hurt bilateral relations by words and deeds about Taiwan.

    "Major sensitive issues such as history and Taiwan are foundational to mutual trust between our two countries," Wang said. "We hope that Japan will honor the series of solemn commitments it has made on these issues to avoid serious disruption to our bilateral relations."

    Sino-Japanese ties have been recently frayed by comments over Taiwan by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who still heads the biggest faction within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party after stepping down as premier and party leader in 2020.

    In December, Abe said any emergency concerning Taiwan would be an emergency for Japan and for the Japan-U.S. security alliance, triggering a backlash from China.

    The two Asian nations have also been at odds over China's temporary detention late last month of a Japanese diplomat in Beijing while on duty, which Tokyo claims violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

    The international treaty requires the hosting state to prevent any disturbance of the peace of a diplomatic mission or impairment of its dignity.

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