Morning Brief

Foreign Policy’s flagship daily newsletter with what’s coming up around the world today. Delivered weekdays.

Biden to Xi: Stay Out of Ukraine Conflict

China has backed Russia in public statements, but the lack of follow-through speaks volumes.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. President Joe Biden virtually meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
U.S. President Joe Biden virtually meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Nov. 15, 2021. MANDEL NGAN/AFP

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at U.S. President Joe Biden’s phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the latest from Russia’s war in Ukraine, and more news worth watching from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Xi and Biden Talk Ukraine 

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at U.S. President Joe Biden’s phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the latest from Russia’s war in Ukraine, and more news worth watching from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Xi and Biden Talk Ukraine 

U.S. President Joe Biden will urge Chinese President Xi Jinping to avoid helping Russia in its war in Ukraine when the two men speak on a phone call later today.

The U.S. message to China before today’s call has been one of caution. News reports citing U.S. officials earlier this week suggested Russia had sought assistance from China after the war began late last month. And on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said today’s conversation will make clear that China “will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia’s aggression, and we will not hesitate to impose costs.”

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, laid the groundwork for today’s call on Monday, when the two met for seven hours in Rome. The meeting, which covered Taiwan as well as Ukraine, was described as “intense” and reflecting “the gravity of the moment” by one U.S. official.

China’s position since Russia’s invasion has been curious for its more full-throated support of Moscow, when other friends of Russia in the region, like India, have adopted a less strident tone—though New Delhi has abstained from U.N. votes and explored financial mechanisms that could help Russia evade sanctions.

Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund, said that although China has talked a big game, it’s too soon to tell whether China will materially support Russia, either militarily or economically, pointing to the fact that there’s been no public evidence yet of Chinese military transfers to Russia or signs that China is looking to circumvent Western sanctions the same way it has in the cases of Iran and North Korea.

Glaser sees China’s support for Russia, especially in the initial stages of the war, as a strategic gamble: “They may have believed that this conflict would drive wedges between the U.S. and Europe. Maybe they thought that Europe wouldn’t cut off gas from Russia and wouldnt want to join in the U.S. and the sanctions.”

Ultimately, the move may prove a blunder from a leader who has spent the last two years inside the country while it battles its COVID-19 pandemic. “I think there’s a really high probability that Xi Jinping has made some bad decisions in this war, which is partly a function perhaps of getting bad advice within his own system but also for being so isolated from other leaders in the rest of the world,” Glaser said.

Within China, Xi must balance a rising tide of anti-Western sentiment that reflexively sides with Russia and the more restrained bureaucrats who would rather avoid unnecessary conflict. As FP’s James Palmer explained in FP’s latest China Brief, those constituencies fall into three groups.

“The first is China’s diplomatic establishment, which sees the conflict as a danger to steer clear of and to some degree is aware of China’s past pledges to Ukraine. The second is the nationalist entrepreneurs both in the media and inside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who have been rewarded in their careers for taking aggressive anti-U.S. positions,” Palmer writes. The third is China’s military, which “may be the biggest advocates for Moscow inside the Chinese government.”

Palmer largely agrees with Glaser that China’s actions deserve greater scrutiny than any statements of support: “Russia can’t even get Kazakhstan on board for this war. They’re not going to get Beijing,” he said.


What We’re Following Today

The war in Ukraine. Negotiations between Russia and Ukraine could enter a fifth day today as Ukraine’s cities continue to hold out under Russian shelling. On Thursday, the United Nations said it had recorded 780 civilian deaths so far—the true count could be much higher—while 3.2 million civilians, mostly women and children, have fled the country.

Meanwhile, the search for survivors in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol continues after a theater serving as a civilian shelter was bombed in what appears to be a high-powered targeted Russian airstrike. (Moscow has, improbably, blamed a far-right Ukrainian group.)

The latest reports indicate that 130 people sheltering in the basement have been pulled from the rubble alive, but hundreds more are still unaccounted for.


Keep an Eye On

Kishida in India. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida makes a two-day visit to India this weekend, where he is expected to meet with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi. Kishida’s trip comes ahead of the next Quad Leaders Summit, which Japan is expected to host in May. Following his India trip, Kishida will then travel on to Cambodia for a two-day visit.

East Timor election. Voters in East Timor go to the polls on Saturday in the country’s presidential election. Incumbent Francisco Guterres faces competition from 15 other candidates, including former President José Ramos-Horta. Should no candidate win more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will go to a second round of voting on April 19.

Berdymukhamedov Jr. ascends. Turkmenistan’s president-elect, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, will be sworn in as the country’s new leader following his landslide victory in the country’s March 12 vote. Berdymukhamedov succeeds his father, Gurbanguly, who only announced his departure in February following almost 16 years ruling the Central Asian nation.

Monuments to the elder Berdymukhamedov—including a more than 60-foot tall golden statue of him on horseback and another gilded likeness of his favorite dog—will remain a testament to the cult of personality he built as leader.


Odds and Ends

One New Zealand couple’s dream of recording the world’s largest potato has been smashed after experts found that a 17.4 pound tuber the couple discovered in their garden, nicknamed “Doug,” was not a potato at all. DNA testing undertaken before the record revealed that the discovery was a “tuber of a type of gourd” and unrelated to the potato family, a fact that keeps British gardener Peter Glazebrook’s 11-pound potato as the current record-holder.

“This has been a fascinating journey of discovery, and we’re glad we’ve been able to get to the root—well, technically, tuber—of the matter,” Adam Millward, managing editor of Guinness World Records said in a statement.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

Join the Conversation

Commenting on this and other recent articles is just one benefit of a Foreign Policy subscription.

Already a subscriber? .

Join the Conversation

Join the conversation on this and other recent Foreign Policy articles when you subscribe now.

Not your account?

Join the Conversation

Please follow our comment guidelines, stay on topic, and be civil, courteous, and respectful of others’ beliefs. Comments are closed automatically seven days after articles are published.

You are commenting as .

More from Foreign Policy

A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed  according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.
A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.

Why Do People Hate Realism So Much?

The school of thought doesn’t explain everything—but its proponents foresaw the potential for conflict over Ukraine long before it erupted.

Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.
Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.

China’s Crisis of Confidence

What if, instead of being a competitor, China can no longer afford to compete at all?

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.

Why This Global Economic Crisis Is Different

This is the first time since World War II that there may be no cooperative way out.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.

China Is Hardening Itself for Economic War

Beijing is trying to close economic vulnerabilities out of fear of U.S. containment.