China has branded a report it asked Russia to delay invading Ukraine until after the Beijing Winter Olympics “fake news” and a “very despicable” attempt to divert attention and shift blame over the war.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin also repeated China’s accusations that Washington provoked the war by not ruling out Nato membership for Ukraine.
“We hope the culprit of the crisis would reflect on their role in the Ukraine crisis, take up their responsibilities, and take practical actions to ease the situation and solve the problem instead of blaming others,” Mr Wang told reporters at a daily briefing.
“The New York Times report is purely fake news, and such behaviours of diverting attentions and shifting blames are very despicable.”
The Times article cited a “Western intelligence report” considered credible by officials.
“The report indicates that senior Chinese officials had some level of direct knowledge about Russia’s war plans or intentions before the invasion started last week,” the Times wrote.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing on February 4, hours before the Games’ opening ceremony. Following that, the sides issued a joint statement in which they declared “friendship between the two states has no limits, there are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation.”
In that statement, China also endorsed Russia’s opposition to further Nato expansion and demanded that it “respect the sovereignty, security and interests of other countries.” Russia, for its part, reaffirmed its support for China’s claim over Taiwan, the self-governing island Beijing threatens to annex by force if necessary.
Russia had launched an attack on Georgia during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, angering some in the Chinese leadership and among the public.
The Times said it was not clear whether the communication about an invasion took place between Mr Xi and Mr Putin or at a lower level, but that the intelligence report indicated that “senior Chinese officials had some level of direct knowledge about Russia’s war plans or intentions before the invasion started last week”.
China is the only major government that hasn’t criticised Moscow’s attack on Ukraine and has also ruled out joining the United States and European governments in imposing financial sanctions on Russia.
Instead, Beijing has endorsed the Russian argument that Moscow’s security was threatened by Nato’s eastern expansion.
China abstained in Wednesday’s UN General Assembly emergency session vote to demand an immediate halt to Moscow’s attack on Ukraine and the withdrawal of all Russian troops.
“Regrettably, the draft resolution submitted to the General Assembly emergency special session for vote had not undergone full consultations with the whole membership, nor does it take into consideration the history and the complexity of the current crisis,” Mr Wang said.
“It did not highlight the importance of the principle of indivisible security or the urgency of promoting political settlement and stepping up diplomatic efforts,” he said. “These are not in line with China’s consistent position. Therefore, we had no choice but to abstain in the voting.”