China rejects 'pressure or coercion' over Russia relations

FILE - In this image made from video, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian gestures during a media briefing that referred to reports of atrocities in the Ukrainian town of Bucha at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office, on Wednesday, April 6, 2022, in Beijing. China has described reports and images of civilian killings in Ukraine as disturbing, and urged that they be further investigated, even while declining to blame Russia. That's drawn questions about the resiliency of Beijing's support for Moscow, but speculation that it is weakening appears to be misplaced. (AP Photo/Liu Zheng, File) (Liu Zheng, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BEIJING – China on Thursday said it would reject “any pressure or coercion” over its relationship with Russia, in response to a call from U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for Beijing to use its “special relationship with Russia” to persuade Moscow to end the war in Ukraine.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian defended China’s position on the war, saying it had “made considerable efforts to de-escalate the situation, defuse the crisis and rebuild peace."

“China is playing a constructive role in the Ukraine issue," Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing.

China has refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine by strategic partner Russia, or even refer to the conflict as a war in deference to Moscow, which uses the term “special military operation."

“We oppose unfounded accusations and suspicions against China, nor will we accept any pressure or coercion," Zhao said. “Time will tell that China’s claims are on the right side of history."

China has also amplified Russian propaganda about the war, including unsupported claims that the U.S. and Ukraine have been developing biological weapons.

It has staunchly opposed economic sanctions against Russia and has abstained or sided with Moscow in U.N. votes following the beginning of the war on Feb. 24, just weeks after Russian leader Vladimir Putin met with China's Xi Jinping in Beijing.

In a speech Wednesday, Yellen said Beijing “cannot expect the global community to respect its appeals to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity in the future if it does not respect these principles now.”

“The world’s attitude towards China and its willingness to embrace further economic integration may well be affected by China’s reaction to our call for resolute action on Russia,” she said.

Yellen’s speech at the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan think tank, came a week before the world’s finance ministers and central bank governors convene in Washington for the International Monetary Fund-World Bank Group Spring Meetings. Her direct appeal to China underscores an increasing frustration that the United States and its allies have with a country that has only deepened its ties with Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.

Making no mention of Russia's aggression, Zhao reiterated China's stance that it “maintains that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and safeguarded," and that “Ukraine’s sovereignty and security should be preserved, and Russia’s legitimate security concerns should also be respected."