- Senior Chinese officials asked Russia to delay invading Ukraine until after the Olympics were over, the New York Times reported.
- The report does not necessarily mean Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed the attack with Russia's Vladimir Putin.
- China has avoided outwardly condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Senior Chinese officials asked their Russian counterparts to delay invading Ukraine until the Winter Olympics in Beijing were over, multiple news outlets reported, citing Western senior intelligence officials including those from the Biden administration.
A Western intelligence report detailed the exchange, reported to have taken place in early February, between Chinese and Russian officials. The New York Times first reported the news.
The intelligence report indicates that senior Chinese officials had direct knowledge of Russia's plans to invade Ukraine, though it is unclear how widely the information was shared, per the Times. This does not necessarily mean that Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin discussed the invasion, the NYT added.
Intelligence officials from the US and Europe, who requested anonymity, told the Times they had picked up on the exchange between Chinese and Russian officials. The report did not state how many officials picked up on the exchange. Officials also couldn't agree on how to best interpret the report, the Times reported.
Some American and European officials told the Times it couldn't have been mere coincidence that Russia invaded Ukraine only after the Olympics.
"These claims are speculation without any basis, and are intended to blame-shift and smear China," Liu Pengyu, the Chinese Embassy spokesman in Washington, told the Times.
China-Russia relations in focus
The closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing took place on February 20. A day later, Russia said it would recognize Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions as sovereign people's republics. On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine.
In the months leading up to the invasion, Russia had moved troops to be near Ukraine and Belarus.
China has consistently avoided condemning Russia's actions, even as Ukraine and the West have asked China to play a bigger role in talking to Russia.
In recent months, senior Biden administration officials had tried to enlist China's help in asking Russia to not invade Ukraine, but they were rebuffed, the Times previously reported. At a Tuesday press conference, a China foreign ministry spokesperson abstained from sharing actions that China would take to, at Ukraine's request, negotiate a ceasefire with Russia.
"China will continue to play a constructive role in a resolution of the situation in Ukraine," said the spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, according to a transcript published on the ministry's website.
On February 4, Putin met Xi ahead of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, where the leaders affirmed "unprecedented" ties and rebuffed any attempts to expand NATO, the South China Morning Post wrote.