Chinese Premier Li Keqiang emphasised the “irresponsibility” of nuclear threats during a regional summit in Cambodia on Sunday.
Li’s remarks on the war in Ukraine at the East Asia Summit, where US President Joe Biden also spoke, were said to have been quite extensive and suggest that Beijing is uncomfortable with Russia’s nuclear rhetoric, a senior US official said on Monday.
The Chinese premier “spoke rather extensively about China’s policy towards Ukraine,” according to a US administration official who briefed reporters ahead of a summit between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday.
Li “put clear emphasis on sovereignty, on the irresponsibility of nuclear threats, the need to ensure that nuclear weapons are not used in the way that some have suggested,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The West has accused Russia of making irresponsible statements on the possible use of nuclear weapons since its February invasion of Ukraine. Moscow has in turn accused the West of “provocative” nuclear rhetoric.
The US official said there was “undeniably some discomfort in Beijing about what we’ve seen in terms of reckless rhetoric and activity on the part of Russia,” despite a formal partnership with Moscow.
“I think it is also undeniable that China is probably both surprised and even a little bit embarrassed by the conduct of Russian military operations,” the official said.
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Biden at the summit on Sunday in Phnom Penh said the United States would “compete vigorously” with China while keeping lines of communication open to prevent conflict.
Biden and Xi will meet in person on Monday for the first time since Biden assumed office early last year.
Premier Li is expected to be replaced next year, and the US official said Washington believes Xi will bring “some new faces” to the meeting with Biden on Monday.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard
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