Xi Jinping has joined Joe Biden in condemning Russian threats of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the White House said, as the leaders of the USA and China met on Monday on the sidelines of the G20 gathering in Bali.
The leaders of the two superpowers agreed that “a nuclear war should never be fought” and cannot be won, “and underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” according to US officials.
That appeared to be a clear reference to thinly-veiled Kremlin threats to use atomic weapons as its nearly nine-month invasion of Ukraine has faltered.
Amid tensions between the two superpowers, they smiled as they shook hands at a hotel in Nusa Dua bay befofre the meeting.
But the focus of their talks was thousands of miles away from the idyllic holiday resort as Mr Putin’s bloody war in Ukraine was claiming ever more lives.
Mr Biden was believed to have raised China’s relationship with the Russian president, whose war in Ukraine is estimated to have left around 200,000 soldiers dead or wounded and to have killed around 40,000 civilians.
Ahead of the talks, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told LBC Radio: “We know President Putin will listen to what the Chinese say. China has a huge influence on the world stage.”
On the front line, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday visited the southern city of Kherson, which has been recaptured after the Russian army retreated across the Dnipro river. “We are ready for peace — peace for all our country,” he told troops, although it was not clear whether this signalled any progress towards a deal to end the conflict.
He also accused Mr Putin’s troops of having committed “atrocities” in Kherson, the only provincial capital that Russia has seized in the nine-month war.
In Turkey’s capital, the head of the CIA met with his Russian intelligence counterpart to underscore the consequences if Moscow were to deploy a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, according to a White House National Security Council official.
In Bali, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was reported to have been taken to hospital on his arrival for the G20 summit. However, Moscow disputed the reports. Mr Putin has stayed away from the meeting of world leaders.
Mr Biden told Mr Xi on Monday: “We spent a lot of time together back in the day when we were both vice-presidents and it’s just great to see you.”
He put an arm around him, adding: “As the leaders of our two nations, we share responsibility, in my view, to show that China and the United States can manage our differences, prevent competition from... turning into conflict, and to find ways to work together on urgent global issues that require our mutual co-operation.” He mentioned climate change and food insecurity as problems the world expected their two countries to address.
Responding to the US president, Mr Xi said as leaders of two major countries, they needed to chart their course and find the right direction. He stated that he was prepared for a “candid and in-depth exchange of views” with the US president to “elevate” the US-China relationship. One of the main topics at the G20 will be Russia’s war in Ukraine and Mr Biden will be “unapologetic” in his defence of the European nation, US officials have stressed.
Rishi Sunak had been expected to meet Mr Lavrov at the summit but it was not clear if this would go ahead with reports that the Russian foreign minister may have had heart problems.
The Prime Minister was due to call on the G20 for co-ordinated action to address economic instability and the rising cost of living in the wake of Russia’s invasion. “Leaders need to step up to fix the weaknesses in the international economic system which Putin has exploited for years,” he was to say.
Mr Xi and Mr Putin have grown increasingly close in recent years, bound by their shared distrust of the West, and reaffirmed their partnership just days before Russia invaded Ukraine. But China has been careful not to provide any direct material support that could trigger Western sanctions against it.
Mr Biden and Mr Xi were also expected to discuss the global economy, Taiwan and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions — issues that will loom over the G20 summit which opens tomorrow.
Both leaders were coming into the highly anticipated meeting with bolstered political standing at home.
Democrats triumphantly held onto control of the Senate, with a chance to boost their ranks by one in a run-off election in Georgia next month, while Mr Xi secured a third five-year term in October from the Community Party’s national congress, a tenure that broke with tradition.
Relations between the superpowers have sunk to their lowest in decades, marred by tensions over a host of issues ranging from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the South China Sea, trade practices and US restrictions on Chinese technology. But US officials said there had been quiet efforts by both Beijing and Washington over the past two months to repair ties. “These meetings do not take place in isolation, they are part of a very sustained process,” said one Biden administration official. “We have engaged in serious, sustained — dozens and dozens of hours — of quiet diplomacy behind the scenes.
“I think we are satisfied with the seriousness that both sides have brought to that process.”