Chinese President Xi Jinping has reasserted his country’s support for Russia in a second phone call with Vladimir Putin, described as “warm and friendly”.
In its account of the conversation, the Kremlin said Mr Xi had “noted the legitimacy” of actions taken by Russia to protect itself “in the face of challenges to its security created by external forces”.
Both leaders are also said to have agreed Sino-Russian relations were at an “unprecedentedly high level” and that they planned to deepen ties in energy, finance and industry.
China has refused to criticise Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or even to refer to it in such terms, while accusing NATO and the West of provoking Moscow into attacking.
Weeks before the Russian attack, Mr Putin and Mr Xi met in Beijing and oversaw the signing of an agreement pledging relations between the sides would have “no limits.”
It is unclear whether Mr Xi knew at the time of Russia’s plan to invade Ukraine.
In that meeting, the two leaders pushed back against US pressure, declaring their opposition to any expansion of NATO and affirming the island of Taiwan as part of China.
The US has a “One China” policy which means it is committed to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
Additionally, the Taiwan Relations Act means America will provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.
Beijing, for its part, insists self-governing Taiwan is an inalienable part of its territory. It has pledged to “reunite” with the island by peaceful means, although it has not renounced the use of force to achieve that.
In Wednesday’s call, the leaders also discussed deeper cooperation in energy, finance and industry, as Moscow faces unprecedented Western sanctions over Ukraine.
“It was agreed to expand cooperation in energy, finance, industry, transport and other spheres, taking into account the global economic situation that has become more complicated due to the West’s illegitimate sanctions policy,” the Kremlin said.
They also discussed further developing their military ties. In the official readout, Mr Xi told Mr Putin China “is willing to work with the Russian side to promote the steady and long-term development of bilateral pragmatic cooperation”.
The official state-owned Xinhua News Agency reported: “China is willing to, together with Russia, continue to support each other on issues concerning core interests and major concerns such as sovereignty and security.”
While offering its tacit support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China has sought to appear neutral and avoid possible repercussions from supporting the Russian economy amid international sanctions.
Moscow and Beijing have increasingly aligned their foreign policies to oppose liberal democratic forces in Asia, Europe and beyond, making a stand for authoritarian rule with tight borders and little regard for free speech, minority rights or opposition politics.