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BEIJING: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the Chinese foreign ministry said Friday.

Thursday’s meeting was the first between the two since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February – though they have held two phone calls in that time.

On Friday, the Moscow-held regions of Ukraine are voting on whether to become part of Russia in referendums that Kyiv and its allies have condemned as an unlawful land grab.

Wang told Kuleba that the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected… the legitimate security concerns of all countries must be taken seriously, and all efforts that are conducive to the peaceful settlement of the crisis must be supported,” the ministry said in a statement.

Beijing has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as President Xi Jinping pursues a close strategic alliance with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to counter the United States.

China’s position on Ukraine to stay ‘objective’ and ‘fair’: Wang Yi

China has repeatedly called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict through dialogue, but has not taken action to facilitate it.

Wang told Kuleba that “China has always been committed to promoting peace talks, never stands idly by, never adds fuel to the fire and never takes advantage of the situation for self-interest”.

“China always stands on the side of peace, and will continue to play a constructive role,” he added.

Kuleba confirmed the meeting on Twitter.

“My counterpart reaffirmed China’s respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as its rejection of the use of force as a means of resolving differences,” he wrote.

‘Sham’ referendums

Beijing has had several high-level meetings with Moscow in recent months, including Wang’s meeting on Wednesday with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, also on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Xi had a high-profile meeting with Putin in Uzbekistan earlier this month during his first state visit overseas since the pandemic began.

UN showdown looms between Lavrov, West over atrocities in Ukraine

The meeting with Kuleba comes during a series of escalations by Putin after Ukrainian forces recaptured most of the formerly occupied Kharkiv region earlier this month.

The referendums in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions, as well as in the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, have been dismissed as a sham by Kyiv’s Western allies.

UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres called them a “violation of the UN Charter and international law”.

The voting, which spans five days, comes after Putin announced this week a mandatory troop call-up for about 300,000 reservists, which triggered mass protests and an exodus of thousands of military-age men from Russia.

Wang is also scheduled to meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Friday, as the two rivals attempt to contain spiralling tensions over a range of issues.

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