US to 'impose costs' on China if it backs Russian aggression, Blinken says

US President Joe Biden is due to speak on Friday with China's leader Xi Jinping

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said that President Joe Biden will make it clear to Chinese President Xi Jinping that Beijing will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia's aggression in Ukraine.

Mr Biden and Mr Xi are due to speak on Friday in their first phone call since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

US officials have struggled to discern China’s position on the war, as Beijing has both avoided public criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin and offered rhetorical support for Ukraine.

US media have reported that Russia has asked China for military and economic assistance as its troops struggle to advance in Ukraine and its economy faces devastation from western sanctions.

“President Biden … will make clear that China will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia's aggression and we will not hesitate to impose costs,” Mr Blinken said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Monday rejected claims it may assist Russia, calling them “malicious".

Mr Blinken said China should use its influence with Mr Putin and “defend the international rules and principles that it professes to support".

“Instead, it appears that China is moving in the opposite direction by refusing to condemn this aggression while seeking to portray itself as a neutral arbiter. We're concerned that they're considering directly assisting Russia with military equipment to use in Ukraine,” Mr Blinken said.

The US secretary of state agreed with Mr Biden that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine and added that experts are in the process of documenting and evaluating reported atrocities.

“Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime,” Mr Blinken told reporters in Washington, saying he finds it “difficult to conclude that the Russians are doing otherwise” after the destruction of the past few weeks.

Mr Blinken also reported a US citizen had been killed in Ukraine.

“I can confirm that an American citizen was killed. I don't have any more details for you than that,” he said.

Updated: March 17, 2022, 9:11 PM