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“China’s fundamental stance has been consistent in respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries and abiding by the mission and principles of the United Nations Charter,” Xi said.

Outside the echo chamber of Chinese official media, however, there seems little doubt that Russia’s war has put its partner Beijing in a severe bind, including over where it stands on countries’ sovereign rights.

China’s quandary may have played a role Friday in what appeared to be a new offer by Russia to negotiate with Ukraine’s embattled leadership.

After Putin’s phone call with Xi, the Russian president signaled he was open to talks — reversing his own foreign minister’s statement hours earlier. The Kremlin framed Putin’s position as a response to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, that he was ready to discuss “neutral status” for Ukraine.

Whether Xi pressured Putin to be more accommodating remains unclear at best. But talks to resolve the crisis would clearly be in China’s interest, easing what critics see as its double standard on the sovereignty issue.

On the one hand, China has long said that the United States and other Western powers routinely trample over other countries, most egregiously in recent times in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. China’s message has been that it is the true guardian of sovereign independence, especially for poorer countries.

On the other hand, Putin has expected Xi to accept, if not support, the invasion. Xi’s government has played along so far, laying responsibility for Europe’s worst war in decades on hubris by the United States. China has also distanced itself from the condemnation of Russia at the United Nations.

China’s “central attack on the United States as a global power since Xi Jinping has come to office has been to accuse it of continued violation of UN Charter principles on national sovereignty,” Kevin Rudd, a former prime minister of Australia who served as a diplomat in China, said in a telephone interview. “This torpedoes that argument midship.”

The growing economic relationship between China and Russia also has given Xi some potential leverage in pushing for Putin to quickly resolve the Ukraine crisis. With severe sanctions now imposed on Russia by Western powers, Putin may need China more than ever as an investor and buyer of Russian oil, wheat, and other products.

Unless the Ukraine crisis is resolved, China will continue performing verbal contortions to try to balance its solidarity with Russia with its declared devotion to the sanctity of the nation-state, experts and former diplomats said.

If the war expands and persists, the costs for China of hemming and hawing over a deadly crisis may grow.

Beijing’s stance has already angered Western European leaders and hardened US frustration with China. Asian and African countries traditionally close to Beijing have condemned Russia’s actions. One of the main currencies of Chinese diplomacy — its declared dedication to sovereign rights for all countries — could be devalued.

“The incoherence is damaging to China over the long term,” said Adam Ni, an analyst who publishes China Neican, a newsletter on Chinese current affairs.

“It undermines China’s long-held foreign policy principles and makes it harder to project itself as a responsible great power,” he said. Ni said it would also “be seen by the US and EU member states as duplicity and complicity in Russian aggression, which will likely have costs for Beijing.”

Chinese newspapers have uniformly held to the government’s position on the war, accusing the United States of provoking Russia by holding open the possibility that Ukraine could join NATO.

“China believes that the chief cause of this war was the United States’ long-term failure to respect Russian security,” said Xuewu Gu, director of the Center for Global Studies at the University of Bonn in Germany. “In that sense, China sees this war as one of self-defense by Russia, therefore naturally it would not describe it as an invasion.”

In private, some Chinese academics have shared misgivings about Xi’s embrace of Putin. And on the Chinese internet, some users have robustly questioned how China’s position on the Ukraine war squares with its long-standing precept that countries should steer their own fates.

“Ukraine is a sovereign, independent country, and if it wants to join NATO or the EU, that’s its freedom and nobody else has the right to intervene,” said one comment Friday on Weibo, a popular Chinese social media service.

Beijing’s muscular notion of how far its sovereignty reaches has become one of the main drivers — and trouble points — of Chinese policy.

Beijing has maintained that Taiwan, the self-governed island that has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, must eventually be united with China, even if armed force is needed. Beijing has made expansive claims to islands and waters across the South China Sea. It has also been locked in clashes with India over disputed borderlands.

In domestic policy, too, the Chinese government has made sovereignty a focus. When authorities put dissidents on trial in secret, they brush off requests for access or information by citing “judicial sovereignty.” When Chinese internet censorship is criticized, officials cite China’s right to preserve its “cybersovereignty.”

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