Chinese President Xi Jinping, has over the weekend, warned Russia that nuclear weapons must not be used amid concerns that the war might go nuclear, making it China’s clearest response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
President Xi made the clear pronouncement during a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Beijing, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
While not mentioning Russia for criticism, Xi reportedly said:
“The international community should … jointly oppose the use or threats to use nuclear weapons, advocate that nuclear weapons must not be used and nuclear wars must not be fought, in order to prevent a nuclear crisis in Eurasia.”
Xi’s statement repeated China’s pledge made in January – alongside nuclear-armed France, Russia, Britain and the United States – to use atomic weapons only for defensive purposes.
“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, or the “P5”, had said in their joint statement.
According to South China Morning Post, China maintains a stated policy that it will not use nuclear weapons first and not threaten non-nuclear states with those weapons.
But Western governments remain concerned because of a lack of transparency over the Chinese nuclear programme.
Xi also told Scholz that China supported Europe’s important role in pushing for peace talks over Ukraine, and in creating a “balanced, effective and sustainable” European security framework, according to Xinhua.
Western countries supporting Ukraine’s war efforts have been worried about Moscow using nuclear weapons, after President Vladimir Putin said in September that Russia would use “all weapon systems available” if its territorial integrity was threatened.
But last month, Putin denied having any intentions of using nuclear weapons against Ukraine, saying there was no need for this from a political or military standpoint.
Russia has also accused Ukraine of planning a “dirty bomb” attack – referring to the use of radioactive explosive intended to contaminate rather than cause heavy casualties.
But UN nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency dismissed the Russian claim on Thursday following an investigation.
Scholz, the first Group of 7 and western European leader to visit China since the Covid-19 pandemic began, said Berlin and Beijing agreed that threatening nuclear attacks was irresponsible and dangerous.
“I have said to President Xi that it’s important for China to exert its influence on Russia – it’s about the principles of the UN Charter that we have all agreed on, and asserting these principles like the sovereignty and territorial integrity of every country.
In an opinion piece for Politico ahead of his one-day trip, Scholz said China bore a “special responsibility” as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
China is not known to have given direct military support to Russia or recognised annexed Ukrainian regions as Russian territory.
However, it has repeatedly criticised the West for ignoring Moscow’s security concerns and the sanctions they imposed in response to the invasion.
Chinese media have also repeated the Kremlin’s narrative on the war and not described it as an invasion.
“Scholz will see China’s public opposition to the use and threat to use nuclear weapons as a victory,” said Noah Barkin, a China expert at Rhodium Group, a New York-based research firm.
“But we don’t know whether that will have any effect on Vladimir Putin, nor whether an escalation in Ukraine would lead Beijing to distance itself from Moscow. The lessons of the past year are that Xi will stick with Putin through thick and thin.”
Xi also highlighted to Scholz the need for Germany and China to work together for the global good.
“We must work together to ensure global industry and supply chains are stable and prevent interferences to cooperation in global energy, food and finance that will harm global economic recovery and, especially, the economic and financial stability of developing countries,” Xi said, according to Xinhua.
For China, economic development and national security go hand in hand. Xi’s national security doctrine says development can ensure security, while security in turn ensures the continued development of nations.
National security, as China sees it, is not only about the protection of territorial integrity but also ensuring a supply chain remains safe from foreign sanctions and developing self-sufficiency in food, energy and technology.