Hong Kong (CNN) Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Wednesday met his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko – a close ally of Vladimir Putin – during a state visit that comes as the West warns China against lethal aid to Putin’s war in Ukraine.
Xi welcomed Lukashenko to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday before the two officials began formal talks, according to Belarusian state media Belta.
It is their first face-to-face meeting since the two leaders agreed in September to transform their countries’ relations into a “comprehensive all-weather strategic partnership” on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. (OCS) in Uzbekistan, which Putin also participated.
The visit by the Belarusian leader – who allowed Russian troops to use Belarus to stage their first incursion into Ukraine last year – comes as tensions between the United States and China have escalated in recent weeks, including in because of Washington’s concerns that Beijing is planning to send deadly aid to the Kremlin’s war effort. Beijing has denied these allegations.
The meeting came a day after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday made some of the most blunt comments yet on how the United States would react to any deadly support China provided Russia.
Blinken warned that Washington would target Chinese companies or citizens involved in any effort to send lethal aid to Russia for its war in Ukraine, during a visit to Kazakhstan. He later said he had no plans to meet his Russian or Chinese counterparts at a G20 meeting for foreign ministers scheduled for New Delhi, India on March 2.
Beijing – which claims to be a neutral party in the conflict – has pushed back against the US implication that it was planning to send lethal aid. Its Foreign Ministry said on Monday that China was “actively promoting peace talks and the political settlement of the crisis”, while the United States “was dumping deadly weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine”.
Beijing released a 12-point position on the “political solution” to the crisis last week in a document calling for peace talks to end the year-long war. Its publication, however, was criticized by Western leaders, who accused China of having already sided with Russia.
Reacting to the meeting between Xi and Lukashenko, Blinken said China ‘cannot have it both ways’, ‘presenting itself as a force for peace in public’ as it ‘continues to fuel the flames of this fire that Vladimir Putin started”. “
He added that there were “some positive elements” in China’s peace proposal, but warned that “if China was really serious about this, the very first principle that established sovereignty, it would have spent the whole of last year working for the restoration of Ukraine’s full and complete sovereignty.”
Blinken accused China of doing the opposite of supporting peace in Ukraine “in terms of its efforts to advance Russian propaganda and disinformation about blocking and fighting war for Russia.”
Lukashenko told Xi that Belarus fully supports Beijing’s “recent” initiative during their meeting on Wednesday, according to Belarusian state media.
“Today’s meeting comes at a very difficult time which requires new, non-standard approaches and responsible political decisions,” Lukashenko said, Xi reported BelTA. “They should be aimed at preventing a global confrontation that will have no winners. You recently stated this, both clearly and unambiguously, when addressing the global community.
“Belarus has actively offered peace and fully supports your initiative on international security.”
Lukashenko also met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday and called on the two countries to “intensify” their relations, according to a reading from the Belarusian government.
“We don’t have closed cooperation topics. We cooperate in all areas. Most importantly, we never set ourselves the task of being friends or working against third countries,” Lukashenko told Li according to reading.
The closer ties between Minsk and Beijing come with a years-long decline in Belarus’ relations with the European Union and the possibility that it will seek to diversify its Russian-dependent economy.
The former Soviet state has been the target of broad sanctions by the United States and its allies in response to Moscow’s aggression after Lukashenko allowed Russian troops to invade Ukraine through the Ukrainian-Belarusian border. 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) north of Kiev.
Nor does the European Union recognize the results of Lukashenko’s 2020 election victory – which sparked mass pro-democracy protests in the country and was followed by a brutal government crackdown.
Throughout the conflict in Ukraine, there have been fears that Belarus could once again be used as a launching ground for another Russian offensive, or that Lukashenko’s own troops might join the war. Before heading to Moscow earlier this month, Lukashenko said there was “no way” his country would send troops to Ukraine unless it came under attack.
China and Belarus have previously hinted that the United States does not want to see an end to the conflict.
In comments to reporters earlier this month before traveling to Moscow to meet Putin, Lukashenko said he wanted to see “peaceful negotiations” and accused the United States of preventing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky from negotiating.
“The United States is the only one who needs this massacre, they want it,” he said.
Beijing has made similar claims, with senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi telling a security conference in Munich earlier this month that China is “not adding fuel to the fire” and “not taking advantage of this crisis,” alluding to regular Chinese propaganda. message that the United States is intentionally prolonging the war to advance its own geopolitical interests and increase the profits of its arms manufacturers.
CNN’s Martin Goillandeau and Sandi Sidhu contributed reporting.