China’s foreign minister has said Russia is his country’s “most important strategic partner” as he refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine.
Wang Yi said ties with Moscow constituted “one of the most crucial bilateral relationships in the world”.
“No matter how perilous the international landscape, we will maintain our strategic focus and promote the development of comprehensive China-Russia partnership in the new era,” Mr Wang told reporters at a news conference on the sidelines of the annual meeting of China’s ceremonial parliament.
“The friendship between the two peoples is iron clad,” he added.
Beijing says that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations should be respected but that sanctions create new issues and disrupt the process of a political settlement.
Much attention has been paid to a meeting between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin in Beijing on February 4, after which the sides issued a joint statement affirming “their strong mutual support for the protection of their core interests”.
Russia endorsed China’s view of Taiwan as an “inalienable part of China, and opposes any forms of independence of Taiwan”, while China backed Russia in opposing the further enlargement of Nato.
Since then, Mr Xi’s government has refused to criticise the attack but tried to distance itself from Mr Putin’s war by calling for dialogue and calling for respect for sovereignty.
That prompted suggestions Mr Putin failed to tell the Chinese leader his plans before their statement.
Along with denouncing trade and financial sanctions on Moscow, Beijing says Washington is to blame for the conflict for failing to take Russia’s security concerns into consideration.
Chinese state-controlled media outlets were told to post only pro-Russian content and to censor anti-Russian or pro-Western views, according to a copy of instructions that appeared on the social media account of the newspaper Beijing News. The post was later deleted.
On Friday, a translation by state TV of remarks by the head of the International Paralympic Committee during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Paralympics skipped portions that expressed horror about the war in Ukraine and called for peace.
Online and in Chinese social media, expressions of sympathy for Ukraine and support for Russia appear but not criticism of Moscow.
The state-run newspaper Capital News appeared to support Mr Putin’s demand that Ukraine become a neutral buffer between Russia and Europe and give up the possibility of Nato membership.
“Ukraine should be a bridge between East and West, rather than a frontier of confrontation between major powers,” Capital News said.
The most senior Chinese leaders have avoided mentioning the war in public.