Chinese, Russia defense chiefs hold telephone conference

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe held a recent telephone call with his Russia counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, to “exchange views on international and regional issues of mutual concern,” an official said Thursday.

Speaking at a monthly briefing, Defense Ministry spokesperson Col. Tan Kefei gave no further details and did not say exactly when the call took place.

China has tacitly backed Russia in its aggression against Ukraine, accusing the U.S. and NATO of provoking the conflict and refusing to refer to it as an invasion in deference to Moscow. China has stopped short of providing Russia with arms or becoming directly involved in the conflict, something the U.S. has strongly warned against.

Just weeks before Russia's February invasion, Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying their countries had a “no limits” friendship.

Putin reaffirmed that relationship most recently in a congratulatory message to Xi on Sunday on his receiving an unprecedented third term as head of China's Communist Party.

Shoigu called his counterparts in India and China on Wednesday to share Moscow’s concern about “possible Ukrainian provocations involving a ‘dirty bomb,’” according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

China and Russia have increasingly aligned their foreign policies in opposition to the U.S.-led Western world order. However, Russia's setbacks in its invasion have seen Beijing take an increasingly dominant role in the relationship, although China is also currently dealing with a faltering economy.

The Russian invasion has refocused attention on China's threat to use military force to annex Taiwan, the self-governing island republic and close U.S. ally that it claims as its own territory.

Taiwan has joined the U.S. and its allies in backing Ukraine. On Wednesday, its foreign minister, Joseph Wu, said Taipei would offer an additional $56 million to Kyiv to reconstruct schools, hospitals and other infrastructure destroyed by Russia. Taiwan will also offer scholarships for Ukrainians to study on the island, Wu said.

Ukrainian legislator Kira Rudik, who is part of a delegation visiting Taiwan this week, said the island could be the next front in the fight for democracy.

“This is why we need to support each other, this is why we are getting closer and closer in our relationship. We are going to win this war together,” Rudik was quoted as saying by Taiwan's Central News Agency.