Premier Li offers China's help for 'grave' Ukraine situation

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Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Premier Li Keqiang vote during the closing session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, March 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)

BEIJING – Chinaese Premier Li Keqiang on Friday called the situation in Ukraine “grave” and offered Beijing’s help in playing a “positive role” for peace while continuing to refrain from criticizing Russia.

China has largely sided with Russia in the conflict, which it has refused to refer to as a war or invasion. The U.S. has accused Beijing of helping spread unsubstantiated claims coming out of Moscow.

China has offered to serve as a facilitator of talks between the sides, although it has little experience in such a role and would not likely be viewed as a neutral party.

“We support and encourage all efforts that are conducive to a peaceful settlement of the crisis," Li told reporters at an annual news conference. “The pressing task now is to prevent tension from escalating or even getting out of control."

Beijing this week said it was sending humanitarian aid including food and daily necessities worth $791,000 to Ukraine while continuing to oppose sanctions against Russia over its invasion and pledging to continue normal trade and economic cooperation with Moscow.

Li, who as China's No. 2 leader behind Xi Jinping is primarily responsible for overseeing the world’s second-largest economy, spoke following the close of the annual session of China’s rubber-stamp legislature. He said that sanctions would “hurt the world economic recovery."

“It is in no one’s interest. China is ready to make its own constructive efforts in maintaining world peace and stability and promoting development and prosperity," Li said.

He also repeated China's position that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected, but that the legitimate security concerns of all countries should also be taken seriously.

“On that basis, China makes its own assessment and will work with the international community to play a positive role for the early return of peace," he said.