China Supports Russia in UN Vote, Despite Evidence of Civilian Killings in Ukraine

On Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly voted to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council over “gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights.” The vote was precipitated by reports of mass killings of civilians in Bucha, Ukraine, during the  Russian occupation of the city, prompting outrage from the international community. Among the countries that voted against the resolution was China, which for the first time joined Russia in a UN vote on the 2022 war in Ukraine. The Associated Press described the Chinese government’s reaction to the massacre in Bucha, news of which appeared on the day before the vote:

China on Wednesday said images of civilian deaths in the Ukrainian town of Bucha are “deeply disturbing” but that no blame should be apportioned until all facts are known.

Emerging evidence of what appeared to be widespread civilian massacres in the wake of Russian withdrawals from the Kyiv areas may complicate Beijing’s attempts to guide public opinion over the conflict, in which China has refused to criticize Moscow.

China supports all initiatives and measures “conducive to alleviating the humanitarian crisis” in the country, and is “ready to continue to work together with the international community to prevent any harm to civilians,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing.

“The truth and the cause of the incident must be verified,” Zhao said. “All parties should exercise restraint and avoid unfounded accusations before a conclusion of the investigation is drawn.” [Source]

In an explanation of China’s vote on Thursday, Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun urged restraint, warned against exerting pressure on other countries over human rights, and opposed taking sides on the issue:

The reports and images of civilian deaths in Bucha are disturbing. The relevant circumstances and specific causes of the incident must be verified and established. Any accusation should be based on facts. Before the full picture is clear, all sides should exercise restraint and avoid unfounded accusations. 

[…] [We] firmly oppose the politicization or instrumentalization of human rights issues, oppose selective and confrontational approaches to human rights issues, and oppose exerting pressure onto other countries in the name of human rights. 

[…] [This] draft resolution was not drafted in an open and transparent manner, nor did it follow the tradition of holding consultations within the whole membership to heed the braided opinions. Under such circumstances, such a hasty move at the General Assembly, which forces countries to choose sides, will aggravate the division among Member states and intensify the contradictions between the parties concerned. It is like adding fuel to the fire, which is not conducive to the de-escalation of conflicts, and even less so to advancing the peace talks. [Source]

Chinese state media coverage earlier this week has largely ignored or downplayed the events in Bucha, as David Demes and Phil Cunningham documented on Twitter:

Articles in the People’s Daily this week have avoided mentioning the brutal reality of Bucha and focused instead on alleged geopolitical and financial atrocities by the U.S. A Chinese-language commentary by “Zhong Sheng” (a pen name used to represent the views of China’s leadership) in Friday’s People’s Daily accused the U.S. of “maintaining hegemony under the guise of ‘human rights,’” and accused it of initiating the crisis. An article in the Global Times, which quoted a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences fellow, stated that “the process of Ukraine becoming a neutral state is slow and the ‘Bucha incident’ has further undermined the atmosphere for the peace talks.” These talking points echo Russian propaganda, which Chinese state media has been amplifying for weeks, along with pro-Russian disinformation. Molly Killeen at Euractiv reported on the scope of disinformation in Chinese state media:

“Chinese state media have been pretty much copy-pasting Russian media content”, said [Katja Drinhausen, senior analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies]. “You have full segments of the Chinese evening news kind of parroting the Russian position.” 

“Sometimes they have very short intersections stating or giving summaries of what EU or US representatives, or Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian government have said, but then it’s 90%, not direct support for the Russian position, but essentially just reading out Russian Foreign Ministries’ statements”, she said.

[…] China’s media strategy also differs depending on the target audience. In Europe, Drinhausen said, Chinese media have not leaned into disinformation as heavily and, while still presenting a narrative that aligns closely with the Russian position, have included contrasting statements.

However, both domestically and in other regions, she added, there is a much more strident alignment with the Kremlin and much more frequent publication of disinformation. [Source]

Disinformation and pro-Russian narratives about the war have saturated Chinese social media. Despite users’ attempts to broach the subject of the Bucha massacre, many are pessimistic that platforms and censors will allow the truth to reach a broader audience. A directive by the Cyberspace Administration of China in early March instructed internet companies to strictly control “viewpoints that support or adulate the United States.” 

Other signs from within China point to the leadership’s broad push to support Russia. One ideological education campaign has reportedly required teachers from over a dozen universities in numerous provinces to attend lectures or online briefings to strengthen ideological control over classroom discussions of the Russian war in Ukraine. The lectures instruct teachers how to “unify thoughts and correctly guide students” and “how certain nations have dominated narratives and manipulated the media.” Another aspect to this ideological campaign, as Chris Buckley reported for The New York Times, is a CCP-produced documentary extolling Putin as a hero and criticizing the West:

Around the country, the Communist Party has organized sessions for officials to watch and discuss the history documentary. The 101 minute-long video, which was completed last year, does not mention the war in Ukraine but argues that Russia is right to worry about neighbors that broke away from the Soviet Union. It describes Mr. Putin as cleansing Russia of the political toxins that killed the Soviet Union.

[…] The documentary, “Historical Nihilism and the Soviet Collapse,” has been the centerpiece of a monthslong campaign aimed at party officials that has continued since Russia began its full assault on Ukraine on Feb. 24, according to reports on local government websites. Officials overseeing the screenings are often described in official notices as calling for cadres to maintain firm loyalty to Mr. Xi.

[…] “If you have the worldview that you see in this documentary, you could tell yourself the story that the Russians are facing a real threat from the West,” Joseph Torigian, an assistant professor at American University in Washington who studies elite politics in China and Russia, said in an interview. [Source]

China’s support of Russia is also apparent in China’s abandonment of its cherished principles opposing the use of force in international relations. Xi’s joint statement with Putin condemned countries that “resort to force” to “unilaterally” address international issues, but as Julian G. Ku described in Foreign Policy, Chinese officials have refused to condemn Russia’s unilateral attack on Ukraine, despite China’s history of condemning those that resort to force:

In the years since the Iraq War, China has not been shy about condemning the use of force, especially in Syria. Not only did it condemn the 2018 U.S. airstrikes in response to the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime as violating international law; it also condemned the Israeli and Turkish military strikes in 2017 and 2019, respectively, in the same conflict. Most recently, in 2020, the Chinese government opposed the U.S. targeted strike that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani. As the Chinese foreign ministry reiterated in its now standard criticism: “China has always opposed the use of force in international relations.”

[…] Despite numerous opportunities to do so, Chinese spokespeople have only acknowledged that there is a conflict in Ukraine and called on “all sides” to exercise restraint. For example, during a Feb. 25 press briefing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson was asked: “Does China consider Russia’s action an invasion now? And if not, then what does China think the nature of this conflict actually is?” In response, the spokesperson dodged the question as to whether Russia has invaded Ukraine and simply repeated that “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and upheld. The purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter should also be jointly upheld.”

This statement somehow managed to avoid addressing whether Russia’s use of force is “upholding” the charter. China has maintained this silence on the question of the use of force and has abstained from both U.N. Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that condemned Russia’s use of force. The only party that China is willing to condemn in the war has actually not used any military force at all: NATO. Nonetheless, China has repeatedly blamed the bloc for causing the war by expanding eastward despite Russia’s security concerns. [Source]

Thursday’s UN resolution was passed with 93 nations voting in favor, 24 voting against, and 58 abstaining. China also abstained from the previous two UN General Assembly votes supporting Ukraine. The first, on March 2, was passed with 141 in favor, five against, and 35 abstaining. The second, on March 24, was passed with 140 in favor, five against, and 38 abstaining. In Thursday’s vote, many more countries from the Global South switched from voting in favor to abstaining, or from abstaining to opposing the resolution. This growing preference for nonalignment indicates that there may be potential in China’s attempts to court developing countries over Ukraine and chip away at international support for sanctions. 


Subscribe to CDT


Browsers Unbounded by Lantern

Now, you can combat internet censorship in a new way: by toggling the switch below while browsing China Digital Times, you can provide a secure "bridge" for people who want to freely access information. This open-source project is powered by Lantern, know more about this project.

Google Ads 1

Giving Assistant

Google Ads 2

Anti-censorship Tools

Life Without Walls

Click on the image to download Firefly for circumvention

Open popup

Welcome back!

CDT is a non-profit media site, and we need your support. Your contribution will help us provide more translations, breaking news, and other content you love.