Hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation in eastern Ukraine, the US accused Moscow and Beijing of combining to create a “profoundly illiberal” world order.
The Ukraine-Russia crisis is posing a major challenge for China on many fronts.
The ever-closer diplomatic relationship between Russia and China could be seen at the Winter Games with Mr Putin coming to Beijing as one of only a handful of known world leaders to attend.
Significantly, Mr Putin waited until just after the Games were over to recognise the two breakaway regions of Ukraine and send in troops to back them.
In its public pronouncements, the Chinese government has urged all sides to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine.
But now that Russia has dispensed with all such restraint, where does that leave China’s official position as clashes escalate?
The Chinese government thinks it cannot be seen to support war in Europe but also wants to strengthen military and strategic ties with Moscow.
Ukraine’s number one trading partner is China and Beijing would ideally like to maintain good relations with Kyiv but this could be difficult to sustain when it is clearly so closely aligned with the government which is sending its troops into Ukrainian territory.
There is also the potential for trade blowback on China from Western Europe if it is judged to be backing Russia’s aggression.
A shift in China’s foreign policy?
Furthermore, a constant refrain from China’s leaders is that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of others and that other countries should not interfere in its internal affairs.
But last week, in a surprising move, China abstained from a UN Security Council vote condemning the invasion of Ukraine.
Some analysts had expected Beijing to join Russia in voting against the motion, but the fact that it did not has been described as a “win for the west” – and is a sign of Beijing’s non-interference.
China however, is still far from condemning the situation, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin refusing to refer to what is happening there as an “invasion”.
There are also unconfirmed reports that Beijing had been aware of the situation and had deliberately turned a blind eye.
According to a New York Times report citing unidentified US officials, the US had over the past months repeatedly urged China to intervene and tell Russia not to invade Ukraine.
However, the report adds that officials later found out that Beijing had shared this information with Moscow, saying the US was trying to sow discord and that China would not try to impede Russian plans.