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In this image taken from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 3, 2022.

In this image taken from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 3, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

An overwhelming vote by the United Nations on a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may increase the pressure on China to take a clearer position on the issue.

The UN General Assembly passed the measure urging Russia to immediately halt its “aggression” by a vote of 141 to 5 in an emergency session Wednesday. Russia was joined by only Belarus -- a key launching point for its invasion -- Eritrea, North Korea and Syria in opposition to the non-binding resolution.

The vote cast a spotlight on China’s continued effort to avoid taking a clear stance against the military action by its close diplomatic partner, despite Beijing’s frequent advocacy for upholding sovereignty rights guaranteed by the UN’s charter. The country -- one of five veto-wielding members on the UN Security Council -- was among 35 states who abstained from the vote.

China’s UN ambassador envoy, Zhang Jun, said the resolution “had not undergone full consultations within the whole membership, nor did it take full consideration the history and complexity of the current crisis,” according to the official Xinhua New Agency. “These are not in line with China’s consistent positions. Therefore, China had no choice but to abstain,” Zhang said.

The war is testing Chinese President Xi Jinping’s commitment last month to a “no limits” relationship with Putin, as the U.S. and its allies pile on sanctions and press Beijing to take a stand against military aggression. In recent days, Xi has urged Putin to pursue negotiations and China also abstained from a binding UN Security Council resolution condemning the attack.

“The overwhelming condemnation from 141 states in opposition to China’s strategic partner, Russia, is a clear signal to China that other states are watching how a leading state, like China, responds to blatant abuse of Ukrainian sovereignty,” said Courtney Fung, an associate professor at Macquarie University and an associate fellow at Chatham House. “Rhetoric over ‘Cold War mentality’ is one thing, but condoning invasion is another.”

While Foreign Minister Wang Yi described the conflict as a “war” and urged the protection of civilians in a call with Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba this week, China has refrained from publicly calling for a ceasefire or using the term “invasion.” China hasn’t criticized Russia, and continues to voice support for its security concerns and blame the U.S. for precipitating the crisis.


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