BEIJING (AP): China repeated calls for talks to resolve the crisis in Ukraine on Thursday while refusing to criticize Russia’s attack, and in a move that could help reduce the impact of Western sanctions against Moscow, approved imports of Russian wheat.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters at a daily briefing that “the Ukraine issue is complex in its historical background … what we are seeing today is the interplay of complex factors.”
“China is closely following the latest developments,” Hua said. “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.”
Although China has not endorsed President Vladimir Putin’s recognition of independence of eastern Ukraine’s separatist areas or Putin’s decision to send Russian forces there, Hua said China “called on parties to respect others’ legitimate security concerns.”
“All parties should work for peace instead of escalating the tension or hyping up the possibility of war,” Hua said, repeating the language China has consistently used to criticize the West during the crisis.
“Those parties who were busy condemning others, what have they done ? Have they persuaded others?” Hua said.
China and Russia have largely aligned their foreign policies in opposition to the U.S. and its allies. Hua did not describe Russia’s actions as an invasion or directly refer to the movement of Russian forces into Ukraine.
On Thursday, China’s customs agency approved imports of wheat from Russia. It is one of the biggest wheat producers but its exports would be vulnerable if its foreign markets block shipments in response to its attack on Ukraine.
The two governments announced an agreement Feb. 8 for China to import Russian wheat and barley after Putin became the highest-profile foreign guest to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics.
China is a big market for other farm goods suppliers, but Beijing had barred imports until now from Russia’s main wheat-growing areas due to concern about possible fungus and other contamination. Thursday’s announcement said Russia would “take all measures” to prevent contamination by wheat smut fungus and would suspend exports to China if it was found.
Earlier, China’s Embassy in Kyiv issued a warning to its citizens to stay home and place a Chinese flag inside or on their vehicle if they needed to travel long distances.
On Wednesday, Hua accused the West of creating “fear and panic” over the crisis and said the U.S. was fueling tensions by providing weapons to Kyiv. She said China opposes new sanctions on Russia.
China-Russia ties have grown closer under Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who hosted Putin at talks in Beijing earlier this month.
The two leaders issued a joint statement backing Moscow’s opposition to a NATO expansion in former Soviet republics and buttressing China’s claim to the self-governing island of Taiwan — key foreign policy issues for Beijing and Moscow.
Li Xin, director of the Institute of European and Asian Studies at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said the West had forced Russia to take action, citing NATO’s expansion eastward and the deployment of missile defense system.
“On the one hand, we respect territory 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.