FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin and China's Xi Jinping walk down the stairs as they arrive for a BRICS summit in Brasilia, Brazil November 14, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo
China refusing to condemn Russia's actions in Ukraine
02:54 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

President Joe Biden will speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping Friday for their first known discussion in months, the White House said Thursday.

The announcement from White House press secretary Jen Psaki comes days after a US diplomatic cable suggested China has expressed some openness to providing Russia with requested military and financial assistance as part of its war on Ukraine. It is not yet clear whether China intends to provide Russia with that assistance, US officials familiar with the intelligence told CNN earlier this week.

“This is part of our ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication between the United States and the PRC,” Psaki said, using the abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China. “The two Leaders will discuss managing the competition between our two countries as well as Russia’s war against Ukraine and other issues of mutual concern.”

The announcement of the call comes after an intense, seven-hour meeting in Rome, between Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan and top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi. During the meeting, Sullivan warned his Chinese counterpart of “potential implications and consequences” for China should support for Russia be forthcoming, a senior administration official said.

Biden and Xi’s last known conversation took place in November during a three-and-a-half hour virtual summit. The highly anticipated summit yielded no major breakthroughs – none were expected ahead of time – and officials dismissed the notion the summit was intended to ease what has become an increasingly tense relationship. During their last meeting, Biden raised concerns about human rights, Chinese aggression toward Taiwan and trade issues, the White House said at the time.

Assistance from China would be a significant development in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It could upend the hold Ukrainian forces still have in the country as well as provide a counterweight to the harsh sanctions imposed on Russia’s economy.

One of Russia’s requests to China was pre-packaged, non-perishable military food kits, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The request underscores the basic logistical challenges the Russian military is facing and raises questions about its fundamental readiness. Russian forces have experienced logistical and strategic setbacks since their invasion began more than two weeks ago.

US officials say they believe Xi has been unsettled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and how Russia’s military has been performing.

US officials, including White House press secretary Jen Psaki, have been increasingly critical of Beijing’s response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Chinese domestic media coverage has promoted Russian disinformation campaigns and described the war as a “special military operation.” Psaki also tweeted that Beijing “has seemingly endorsed” false Russian claims that the US is developing chemical weapons in Ukraine.

The call will come days before the President is scheduled to travel to Europe to meet with world leaders to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The President will travel to Brussels to participate in a NATO summit on March 24 and will also join a European Council meeting.

Since taking office, the President has emphasized that managing competition with China is a long-term national security and economic priority of the United States. Biden has repeatedly stressed he believes the US is at an inflection point in its history and must show the world democracies can compete with autocratic regimes like China’s.

This story has been updated with additional information.