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“Attacks against civilians are unacceptable and should not occur,” Ambassador Zhang Jun said Tuesday at a UN Security Council briefing on Ukraine. “The reports and images of civilian deaths in Bucha are deeply disturbing.”

“Attacks against civilians are unacceptable and should not occur,” Ambassador Zhang Jun said Tuesday at a UN Security Council briefing on Ukraine. “The reports and images of civilian deaths in Bucha are deeply disturbing.” (U.S. Coast Guard photo by PA3 Annie R. Berlin)

China’s envoy to the United Nations expressed dismay at the killing of unarmed civilians in Bucha, while calling on all sides to withhold judgment until a probe establishes who is responsible.

“Attacks against civilians are unacceptable and should not occur,” Ambassador Zhang Jun said Tuesday at a UN Security Council briefing on Ukraine. “The reports and images of civilian deaths in Bucha are deeply disturbing.”

Zhang stopped short of condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin for the violence, saying that “circumstances and specific causes of the incident should be verified and established” and “all sides should exercise restraint and avoid unfounded accusations.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Wednesday at a regular press briefing in Beijing that China is “highly concerned” about the harm done to civilians. “The reports and images of civilian deaths in Bucha are deeply disturbing,” he said, echoing Zhang.

President Joe Biden has said Putin could face a war crimes trial related to the civilian deaths in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, and other Ukrainian towns vacated by Russian soldiers. Russia has denied its forces killed civilians, saying pictures of bodies strewn on the streets were a fabrication by Ukraine.

China has come under increased pressure from Washington and Brussels to take a stance on the conflict, as its diplomats and state media play down civilian casualties and cast Putin as a victim of the U.S.-backed expansion of NATO. European leaders told President Xi Jinping in a tense Friday video summit that “equidistance is not enough” on Ukraine, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The European Union’s top diplomat on Tuesday described that call as a “deaf dialog,” saying China wanted to avoid talking about the war. “The European side made clear that this compartmentalization is not feasible, not acceptable,” Josep Borrell, who accompanied European leaders in the exchange, told the European Parliament.

Chinese state media outlets including the overseas edition of Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, China Central Television’s military affairs channel and China Daily posted Zhang’s comments to China’s Twitter-like Weibo. They attracted little attention compared to items on the Covid-19 outbreak in Shanghai and unverified footage of Ukrainian marines surrendering in Mariupol, which was briefly the second top trending item.

Before Zhang’s remarks at the UN, state media had mostly amplified Russia’s denial that Putin’s army was involved in the killings. On Monday, CCTV published Russian defense ministry claims that all photos and videos of Bucha were “directed by the Ukrainian government for Western media.”

That theory, dismissed as a falsehood by numerous governments, was widely circulated on Chinese social media, while posts showing how newspapers around the world were condemning Russia’s massacre on their front pages were censored.

The Communist Party backed Global Times tabloid referred to the mass killings as the “Bucha incident” in a Wednesday editorial, which called the U.S. the “initiator” of the Ukraine crisis and blamed it for exacerbating tensions by sanctioning Russia.

Still, some internet users were outraged by Russian’s atrocities, comparing them to the Nanjing massacre, in which an invading Japanese army killed tens of thousands of people over several weeks from late 1937 to early 1938. While China puts the death toll of that incident at 300,000, some in Japan continue to question accounts of the event.

“As Chinese people who have the memories of the Nanjing massacre, those who can still defend massacre of civilians have utterly lost their conscience,” said one Weibo user in a post shared nearly 900 times.


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