Xi Jinping personally warned Vladimir Putin against using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, it has emerged.
China’s president delivered the blunt message face-to-face to the Russian president during his state visit to Moscow in March, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday, citing multiple Western and Chinese officials.
It indicates underlying Chinese misgivings about Russia’s invasion of its neighbour despite Beijing’s outward show of tacit support for Moscow on the global stage
The report comes amid warnings from Ukraine that Russia may have placed explosives on the roof of Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, in the country’s southeast.
Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, said Moscow may be planning to detonate them to simulate an attack on the facility which it will blame on Kyiv’s forces.
China’s influence over Russia has raised hopes that Mr Xi’s closed-door warning may deter Putin from using nuclear weapons out of concern that he could jeopardise Moscow’s strategic relationship with Beijing.
Andriy Yermak, president Zelensky’s chief of staff, said on Wednesday that China’s position in the face of a potential nuclear threat from Russia was “important”.
”(This is) an important position of (China) regarding the nuclear threat from the insane Russian terrorist,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging app, posting a link to the Financial Times article.
China has been one of the few countries to fully engage with Russia since its invasion of Ukraine and Mr Xi’s declaration early last year of a “no limits” friendship with Putin and a Beijing “peace plan” that mirrors Moscow’s views have been greeted with suspicion in the US and Europe.
However, Beijing’s stance on nuclear weapons has also been welcomed.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said in March that Mr Xi’s Moscow visit “reduces the risk of nuclear war and they [the Chinese] have made it very, very clear”.
Former UK prime minister Tony Blair agreed in an interview with Nikkei Asia last week that China’s intervention means there are “reasonable grounds for hope” that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will not trigger a third world war.
Although there were “many problems” with China’s support of Russia, the benefit of their close relationship was its insistence Moscow did not resort to a nuclear option, he said.
“China does not believe it is in its interest at all for this to slide towards a global conflict.”