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Top Chinese official revealed ‘discomfort’ with Russia’s reckless behavior in Ukraine

U.S. officials said Monday they believe China is becoming increasingly concerned and embarrassed by Russia’s war in Ukraine and Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric about 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 wants to get a handle on Xi’s thinking.

The officials provided 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 quite extensively about China’s policy towards Ukraine, clearly insisting on sovereignty, on responsibility for nuclear threats, the need to ensure that nuclear weapons are not used in the way that some have suggested,” an official said on a briefing call with journalists.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (left), the second most powerful person in Beijing, attended the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  A US official said he talked a lot about Ukraine and the importance of sovereignty and restraint around nuclear rhetoric

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (left), the second most powerful person in Beijing, attended the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A US official said he talked a lot about 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 night 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 US delegation was given more details about Chinese unrest at the summit.

“I think the messages down the hall were unmistakable, and yes, there have been areas where China and Russia have worked together to deepen and expand their relationship — economically, in energy, in technology and in a number of other areas,” the officials said .

‘But on some of these big questions. I think there is undeniably some discomfort in Beijing about what we have 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 message, 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 landed on the island - his third stop on a worldwide foreign policy push

Biden was greeted with a traditional Balinese welcome dance when he landed on the island – his third stop on a worldwide foreign policy push

US 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 arms.

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

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 downplay expectations and framed the gathering 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 advanced 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.

Another official on the call said Biden wanted to make sure the competition between the two countries didn’t get out of hand.

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

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

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

US officials said they believed Chinese officials were uncomfortable and embarrassed by Russian activities in Ukraine

US officials said they believed Chinese officials were uncomfortable and embarrassed by Russian activities in Ukraine

“He wants to make sure that the competition is limited, that we develop barriers that have clear traffic rules and that we do all that to make sure that the competition does not deviate from the conflict,” the official said.

Xi arrives at the summit with his position cemented by a recent party congress. He will serve a second 10-year term, sidelining some of his potential rivals.

That means U.S. officials will have a chance to see his most trusted ally up close.

“Tonight at the meeting, we believe that President Xi will read with him some new faces who will take more prominent roles in the formulation and execution of Chinese policy in the coming time,” the official said.

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, though Republicans appear on track to win it by 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 to.

‘I know Xi Jinping, I have 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 have to figure out where the red lines are.”