WASHINGTON—Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told senior European officials on Friday that China respects countries' sovereignty, including Ukraine's, but that Russia's concerns about NATO's eastward expansion should be properly addressed.
After weeks of warnings from Western leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin unleashed an invasion of Ukraine from the north, east and south on Thursday that was the biggest attack on a European state since the Second World War.
Weeks before the invasion, China and Russia announced a strategic partnership, and so far Beijing has stayed clear of condemning Moscow's actions.
Wang said the current situation in Ukraine was not something Beijing wished to see and that it would welcome direct dialogue between Russia and Ukraine as soon as possible.
"China firmly advocates respecting and safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries," Wang said, according to a statement from China's Foreign Ministry. "This equally applies to the Ukraine issue."
Wang held separate calls with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell and a French presidential adviser.
"Given 5 consecutive rounds of NATO's eastward expansion, Russia's legitimate security demands should be taken seriously and properly addressed," Wang said, according to the statement.
The statement was issued prior to a UN Security Council vote on Friday on a resolution condemning Moscow's invasion.
Russia vetoed a draft UN Security Council resolution on Friday that would have deplored Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, while China abstained from the vote, a move Western countries view as a win for showing Russia's international isolation.
The United Arab Emirates and India also abstained from the vote on the US-drafted text. The remaining 11 council members voted in favor. The draft resolution is now expected to be taken up by the 193-member UN General Assembly.
US President Joe Biden on Thursday said any country that backed Russia's onslaught in Ukraine would be "stained by association," and Washington has said Chinese firms will face consequences if they seek to help Moscow evade export controls imposed by Western countries.
(Reporting by Michael MartinaEditing by Chris Reese and Kevin Liffey)