American officials said Monday they believe China is becomingly increasingly concerned and embarrassed about Russia’s war in Ukraine and Vladimir Putin‘s rhetoric on nuclear weapons.

They spoke just ahead of Joe Biden‘s first meeting as president with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

Beijing’s relationship with Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine will be one of the areas where Biden will want to get a handle on Xi’s thinking.

The officials delivered an assessment of discussions at a summit of southeast Asian leaders in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, attended by the Chinese premier, Beijing’s second most powerful figure.

‘Premier Li Keqiang spoke rather extensively about China’s policy towards Ukraine, put clear insistence on sovereignty, on the responsibility of nuclear threats, the need to ensure that nuclear weapons are not used in the way that some have suggested,’ said an official on a briefing call with reporters.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (left), the second most powerful figure in Beijing, attended the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A U.S. official said he spoke extensively on Ukraine and the importance of sovereignty and restraint around nuclear rhetoric

President Joe Biden

President Xi Jinping

President Joe Biden will meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Bali on Monday evening, ahead of a G20 summit on the Indonesian island

Putin has repeatedly warned that he could use tactical nuclear weapons to defend his territory. 

The official went on to say that the U.S. delegation picked up more details of Chinese unease at the summit. 

‘I think the messaging in the hallway was unmistakable and yes there have been areas where China and Russia have worked together to deepen and broaden their relationship – economically, on energy, technologically and in a variety of other areas,’ said the officials.

‘But on some of these big issues. I think there is undeniably some discomfort in Beijing about what we’ve seen in terms of reckless rhetoric and activities on the part of Russia.

‘I think it is also undeniable that China is probably both surprised and even a little bit embarrassed by the conduct of Russian military operations.’

The official did not describe the source of the messaging, but Li was in Phnom Penh where he met with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Sunday.

Biden was greeted with a traditional Balinese welcome dance when he touched down on the island - his third stop of an around-the-world foreign policy push

Biden was greeted with a traditional Balinese welcome dance when he touched down on the island – his third stop of an around-the-world foreign policy push

U.S. officials will see an opportunity to drive a wedge between China and Russia, after months of concern that Beijing might respond favorably to Moscow’s requests for weapons.

Biden is due to meet Xi ahead of the Group of 20 leaders summit in Bali on Monday evening.

The two have known each other since 2011, but this will be their first face-to-face meeting since Biden took office last year.

Officials and Biden himself have taken pains to play down expectations, framing the get-together as a chance to understand each other’s red lines.

It comes after months of tensions over Taiwan and accusations that China is stealing American technology.  The latest flashpoint came last month, when the Biden administration moved to ban the sale of cutting-edge microchips to China. 

Now officials say Biden will want to understand where Xi stands on China’s growing relationship with Russia, its designs on the island of Taiwan, and whether it is willing to do anything to rein in North Korea’s aggression. 

A second official on the call said Biden wanted to ensure that competition between the two countries did not spiral out of control.

Children wave Ukrainian flags at the main square in the recently recaptured city of Kherson

Children wave Ukrainian flags at the main square in the recently recaptured city of Kherson

Local residents look at two alleged collaborators tied by the hands to pillars in Kherson, after the city was abandoned by retreating Russian forces. Russia is accused of war crimes

Local residents look at two alleged collaborators tied by the hands to pillars in Kherson, after the city was abandoned by retreating Russian forces. Russia is accused of war crimes

American officials said they believed Chinese officials were discomforted and embarrassed by Russian activities in Ukraine

American officials said they believed Chinese officials were discomforted and embarrassed by Russian activities in Ukraine

‘He wants to make sure that that competition is bounded, that we develop guardrails that we have clear rules of the road and that we do all of that to ensure that competition does not veer of the conflict,’ the official said.

Xi arrives at the summit with his position cemented by a recent party congress. He will serve a second term of 10 years and saw some of his potential rivals sidelined.

It means American officials will have a chance to see his most trusted allies up close.

‘Tonight in the meeting, we think President Xi will read with him some new faces that will be taking more prominent roles in the formulation and execution of Chinese policy in the time ahead,’ said the official.

Biden also strengthened his position on Sunday, when Democrats won their 50th Senate seat, giving them control of the upper chamber for another two years.

The fate of the House remains in the balance, although Republicans appear to be on course to win it with the slimmest of majorities. 

‘I know I’m coming in stronger,’ Biden told reporters traveling with him in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, ‘but I didn’t need that.

‘I know Xi Jinping, I’ve spent more time with him than any other world leader.

‘I know him well. He knows me. 

‘We have very little misunderstanding and we just got to figure out where the red lines are.’



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