(WASHINGTON) — In a high-stakes video call, President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping spoke Friday morning for the first time since November amid concerns that China will help Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
The White House said the two leaders spoke for one hour and 50 minutes.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden would be candid and direct and that the call provided a chance for him to “assess where President Xi stands.” The conversation would center on “managing the competition between our two countries as well as Russia’s war against Ukraine and other issues of mutual concern,” according to the White House.
Biden was expected to warn Xi that if China directly helps Russia in its assault on Ukraine there will be consequences — but it’s unclear if he laid out specific actions the U.S. will take if China were to supply Russia with military equipment or economic assistance to offset the impact of global sanctions.
In what appeared to be a warning shot to the West, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that any foreign supplies to Ukraine containing military equipment will be considered “legitimate targets” for Russian strikes after Biden announced this week a slate of weapons the U.S. is supplying to Ukraine.
“We clearly said that any cargo moving into the Ukrainian territory which we would believe is carrying weapons would be fair game. This is clear because we are implementing the operation the goal of which is to remove any threat to the Russian Federation coming from the Ukrainian soil,” Lavrov said in an English-language interview with the RT television channel.
Ukrainians woke up Friday to the first strike on the outskirts city of Lviv, considered a safe haven until now, and not far from the Polish border. It follows a stark warning from the Pentagon that Russia was broadening its target and escalating attacks this week.
While the Biden administration has hesitated from drawing red lines of what would change its position on not supporting a no-fly zone or troops on the ground in Ukraine, Lavrov’s message raises concerns that Russia could fire at military bases in neighboring NATO ally Poland to Ukraine, triggering an Article 5 response.
Earlier this week, national security adviser Jake Sullivan had a seven-hour meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Rome, which was described as “intense.” A senior Biden administration declined to tell reporters whether China had expressed an openness to providing Russia with military or economic support or if it had already provided support to Russia since it invaded Ukraine.
“We do have deep concerns about China’s alignment with Russia at this time, and the national security adviser was direct about those concerns and the potential implications and consequences of certain actions,” the official said.
That meeting had been “long-planned” and “long-discussed” as a way to maintain communication with China, but it happened to take place at “a really timely and important moment in this crisis,” the official added.
Biden and Xi’s critical call comes on the heels of Biden labeling Putin a “war criminal,” a “murderous dictator,” and a “pure thug” in the last 48 hours. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday he “personally” agrees with Biden that Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine.
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