Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying attends a news conference in Beijing, China February 24, 2022.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying attends a news conference in Beijing, China February 24, 2022. Reuters / CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS

China rejected calling Russia's moves on Ukraine an "invasion" and urged all sides to exercise restraint on Thursday, even as it advised its citizens there to stay home.

Ukrainian forces battled Russian invaders on three sides on Thursday after Moscow mounted an assault on Ukraine by land, sea and air in the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two.

"China is closely monitoring the latest situation. We call on all sides to exercise restraint to prevent the situation from getting out of control," China's foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

At a packed daily media briefing in Beijing, Hua bridled at journalists' characterisation of Russia's actions.

"This is perhaps a difference between China and you Westerners. We won't go rushing to a conclusion," she said.

"Regarding the definition of an invasion, I think we should go back to how to view the current situation in Ukraine. The Ukrainian issue has other very complicated historical background that has continued to today. It may not be what everyone wants to see."

The ministry said later that senior diplomat Wang Yi, also China's foreign minister, had spoken with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

Wang said that the Ukraine issue had a "complex" history and reiterated that China understands what it called Russia's "legitimate concerns" on security, China's foreign ministry said.

Russia's attack comes weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, just before the Winter Olympics in Beijing that ended on Sunday. The two sides announced a strategic partnership aimed at countering U.S. influence and said they would have "no 'forbidden' areas of cooperation".

Xi and Putin have developed a close partnership over the years, but Russia's actions in Ukraine put China, which has an oft-stated foreign policy principle of non-interference, in an awkward position, experts say.


Asked if Putin had told China he was planning to invade Ukraine, Hua said Russia, as an independent power, did not need to seek the consent of China.

"It independently decides and implements its own diplomacy and strategy according to its own strategic judgment and interests," she said.

"And I would also like to add that every time the heads of state meet, they will of course exchange views on issues of common concern."

China has been expected to back Russia diplomatically and perhaps economically over Ukraine, but not militarily. Hua, in response to a question, said China had not provided Russia with any military support.

On Wednesday, a U.S. State Department spokesman accused China and Russia of working together to create a new "profoundly illiberal" world order, of which Moscow's actions towards Ukraine were just a part.

U.S. President Joe Biden has vowed "severe sanctions" in response to Russia's attack, and said he would meet with other Group of Seven leaders to discuss the matter.

Washington has warned Chinese firms they would face consequences if they sought to evade export controls imposed on Moscow.

A senior official in the Biden administration told reporters on Thursday China had gone close to endorsing Russia's actions and many countries would be watching how Beijing votes when the a U.N. Security Council considers a resolution on the issue on Friday.

The official said Russia's actions "carry risks for China along with everyone else" and added: "It's not in China's interest to endorse a devastating conflict in Europe and defy the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity it claims to hold dear."

Hua called on Europe to reflect on how it can better protect its peace and accused some countries of "following the U.S. in fanning the flame."

"We object to any action that hypes up war," she said, and added in reference to Europe: "At the current stage, we should consider whether we've done enough in mediation."

China's embassy in Kyiv warned that the situation in Ukraine had deteriorated sharply and security risks had risen, with social order potentially descending into chaos.

"The Chinese flag can be affixed to an obvious place on the body of the vehicle," the embassy said in advice to any nationals who decide to venture out.

China has so far stopped short of telling its 6,000 citizens in Ukraine to consider leaving. An embassy security advisory earlier this week warned them to stock up on necessities.