Hong Kong (CNN) Chinese leader Xi Jinping Met Belarusian partner Alexander Lukashenko — Vladimir Putin’s closest ally — on Wednesday, in an upcoming state visit as the West raised concerns that China could be moving closer to Russia, considering potentially dangerous aid to Putin’s war in Ukraine.
Xi greeted Lukashenko at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Wednesday for their first face-to-face meeting after the two leaders upgraded ties to an “all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership” on the sidelines of the last Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit. September in Uzbekistan, attended by Putin.
“Today we will jointly set new visions for the development of bilateral relations… Our long-standing friendly exchanges will keep our friendship unbroken,” Xi told Lukashenko during the meeting, according to Chinese state media.
The visit by the Belarusian leader — who allowed Russian troops to use Belarus to stage their initial incursion into Ukraine — comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and China in recent weeks, including concerns from Washington that Beijing is considering sending Mortal aid to the Kremlin’s struggling war effort. Beijing has denied those claims.
The meeting came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Tuesday made his most direct comments to date about how the U.S. would respond to any lethal support from China for Russia.
During a visit to Kazakhstan, Blinken warned that Washington would target any Chinese companies or citizens involved in any attempt to send dangerous aid to Russia for its war in Ukraine. He said there were no plans to meet his Russian or Chinese counterparts at the G20 meeting of foreign ministers in New Delhi, India, on March 2.
Beijing — which claims to be a neutral party in the conflict — has pushed back on US implications that it is considering sending euthanasia. Its Foreign Ministry said on Monday that China is “actively promoting peace talks and a political solution to the crisis,” while the United States is “pouring deadly weapons into the battlefield in Ukraine.”
Beijing last week released a 12-point position on a “political solution” to the crisis in a document calling for peace talks to end the year-long war. Xi reaffirmed China’s position on the conflict with Lukashenko, according to a Chinese-read report of the meeting.
“China’s statement on the political solution to the Ukraine crisis has been released,” Xi said. “China’s position is to promote peace and talks. We must adhere to the direction of political settlement, abandon all Cold War mentality, respect the legitimate security concerns of all countries, and build a balanced, effective and stable European security architecture.”
“Related countries should stop politicizing and instrumentalizing the world economy and do things that will help stop the fire and war and resolve the crisis peacefully,” Xi added.
Lukashenko said the Belarusian side “fully acknowledges and supports China’s position and proposal for a political solution to the Ukrainian crisis, which is key to resolving the crisis,” according to a Chinese-read statement.
However, its release was criticized by Western leaders, who accused China of already taking Russia’s side. Responding to the meeting between Xi and Lukashenko, Blinken said China “cannot have it both ways,” “generally presenting itself as a force for peace,” while it “continues to fuel the flames of this fire started by Vladimir Putin.”
He said there were “some positive elements” in China’s peace plan, but warned, “If China is really serious about this, the first policy of asserting sovereignty, which it has been working to support throughout the last year, is to restore Ukraine’s full, complete sovereignty.”
Blinken accused China of doing the opposite of supporting peace in Ukraine “based on efforts to advance Russian propaganda and misinformation about deterring Russia and dealing with Russia.”
Lukashenko met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday and called on the two countries to “intensify” their ties, according to a Belarusian government readout.
“We don’t have any closed topics for cooperation. We cooperate in all ways. Most importantly, we never set out to act as friends or against third countries,” Lukashenko told Li.
The tightening of ties between Minsk and Beijing could come after years of deterioration in Belarus’ ties with the European Union and as it seeks to diversify its Russia-based economy.
The former Soviet state has been targeted by tough sanctions from the United States and its allies in response to Moscow’s aggression after Lukashenko allowed Russian troops to invade Ukraine along the 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) Ukrainian-Belarusian border north of Kyiv.
The EU did not recognize the results of Lukashenko’s 2020 election victory — which sparked mass pro-democracy protests in the country and was followed by a brutal government crackdown.
Throughout the conflict in Ukraine there have been fears that Belarus could again be used as a launching pad for another Russian offensive or that Lukashenko’s own troops would join the war. Before traveling to Moscow earlier this month, Lukashenko said there was “no way” he would send troops into Ukraine unless it was attacked.
Both China and Belarus have previously indicated that the US does not want to see an end to the conflict.
Before traveling to Moscow to meet Putin, Lukashenko told reporters earlier this month that he wanted to see “peaceful negotiations” and accused the US of blocking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky from talks.
“America only needs and wants this carnage,” he said.
Beijing has made similar assertions, with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi at a security conference in Munich earlier this month saying China was “not adding fuel to the fire” and was “against reaping the benefits of this crisis,” pointing to typical Chinese propaganda. It sends the message that the US is deliberately prolonging the war to advance its own geopolitical interests and increase the profits of its arms manufacturers.
CNN’s Martin Koilando and Sandy Sidhu contributed reporting.