Boris Johnson has urged China to get off the fence and join the global condemnation of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The prime minister said he believed some in the Xi Jinping administration were having “changes of mind” about the neutral stance taken by Beijing following Russia’s actions against its neighbor.
Despite Johnson’s suggestion of a possible change in attitude, there was renewed criticism of NATO on Saturday from China as Russian forces continued to bombard Ukrainian towns and cities.
Johnson used a Sunday Times interview to urge China and other neutral nations to line up against Russia.
He said: “As time goes on, and as the number of Russian atrocities increases, I think it becomes more and more difficult and politically embarrassing for people to either actively or passively tolerate Putin’s invasion.
“There are considerable dilemmas now for people who thought they could stay out, who thought they could stay on the fence.
“And yes, I think in Beijing you are starting to have some doubts.”
US President Joe Biden had a two-hour video call with Chinese President Xi on Friday, but there was little evidence of any change in Beijing’s stance.
On Saturday, China’s deputy foreigner Le Yucheng blamed NATO, a “holdover from the Cold War,” for the war and criticized sanctions against Russia.
Leaders of the NATO alliance, including Biden, are due to meet in Brussels on Thursday, with Johnson suggesting it would be “extremely significant,” with the possibility of more promises of support for Ukraine and its President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“People will want to do more to help Ukrainians defend themselves,” Johnson said.
“But I must stress that it is very important that we do not fall into the trap of appearing to pile on Putin’s argument to his own country that this is indeed a war between Russia and NATO; between Russia and the West. That’s not what’s happening here.”
The prime minister used a speech at the Tory spring conference on Saturday to claim that Putin’s invasion was motivated not by fear of Ukraine joining an enlarged NATO, but because he was terrified of a successful democracy in the former Soviet republic. .
He said Mr. Zelensky, with whom he has regular talks despite the constant threat of attacks in kyiv, is an “absolutely charming guy, but he’s also proven to be an inspiration and a heroic war leader.”
The possibility of offering Mr Zelensky and his family refuge in the UK had been discussed, but Mr Johnson told the Sunday Times: “I have to tell you that Volodymyr has always been clear, his duty is to the Ukrainian people; he is going to stay there, he is going to take care of them. I have to say I admire him.”
In his speech at the conference in Blackpool on Saturday, Johnson said Putin was in “complete panic” at the prospect of a popular uprising if freedom in kyiv was allowed to flourish.
The war was a “turning point for the world”, forcing countries to confront Russia rather than “make arrangements with tyranny”.
“He (Mr. Putin) has been in total panic over the so-called color revolution in Moscow itself and that is why he is trying to douse the flame of freedom in Ukraine with such brutality, and that is why it is so vital that he fails,” Johnson said.
“A victorious Putin will not stop in Ukraine, and the end of freedom in Ukraine will mean the extinction of any hope of freedom in Georgia and then in Moldova, it will mean the beginning of a new era of intimidation in Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea.”
Johnson used his interview with the Sunday Times to acknowledge that sanctions and a move away from Russian oil and gas could have a “terrible” impact on consumers and motorists.
But he said the West had to reduce reliance on Russian hydrocarbons, suggesting it should have been done sooner after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
“The West is paying something like $700m (£531m) a day to Putin in oil and gas revenue. And he is using that money to finance his barbaric aggression in the Ukraine.”
In other developments:
– UN organizations confirmed that there have been more than 847 civilian deaths since the war began, although they admitted that the real number is probably much higher.
– Former Prime Minister David Cameron traveled to Poland to deliver supplies to refugees fleeing the fighting.
– Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has banned a Cessna jet from leaving London’s Biggin Hill Airport due to alleged links to Russia.