US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping began a phone call Friday in which Biden will pressure his counterpart to join Western pressure against Russia over the invasion of Ukraine, warning of "costs" if Beijing goes to the Kremlin's aid.
The two leaders started the call, their first since a video summit in November, at 9:03 am (1303 GMT), the White House said.
The high stakes conversation will be a chance for Biden to try and persuade Xi to give up any idea of bailing out Russia from the effects of Western sanctions or even sending military assistance for Russia's onslaught against neighboring Ukraine.
China's Xi Jinping said conflicts between states are "in no-one's interest" during the video call, Chinese state TV reported.
"State-to-state relations cannot go to the stage of military hostilities," state broadcaster CCTV reported Xi as saying. "Peace and security are the most valued treasures of the international community."
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told CNN on Friday that China should get off the fence and join forces with the West against President Vladimir Putin.
China should "understand that their future is with the United States, with Europe, with other developed and developing countries around the world. Their future is not to stand with Vladimir Putin," she said.
Biden has successfully marshaled a tight Western alliance against Russia, while giving military support to Ukrainian forces.
But Beijing has refused to condemn its fellow authoritarian ally, and Washington fears the Chinese could switch to full financial and military support for Russia, transforming an already explosive transatlantic standoff into a global dispute.
If that happened, not only could Beijing potentially help Putin weather sanctions and continue his war, but Western governments would face the painful decision of how to strike back at the world's second biggest economy, likely prompting turmoil on international markets.
The White House was tight-lipped on whether Biden will threaten China with economic sanctions during his call, but some sort of response is on the table.
Biden "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," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
China should use "whatever leverage they have to compel Moscow to end this war," the top US diplomat urged, but said he was "concerned that they're considering directly assisting Russia with military assistance."
- China 'balancing priorities' -
The Biden-Xi call came after US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Yang Jiechi, the Chinese Communist Party's chief diplomat, held what the White House called a "substantial" seven hour meeting in Rome this week.
Against a backdrop of already intense US-Chinese tensions over Taiwan and trade disputes, the ability or failure of Biden and Xi to come to an understanding on the unfolding mayhem in Europe will reverberate widely.
Xi and Putin symbolically sealed their close partnership when they met at the February Winter Olympics in Beijing -- just before Putin launched his onslaught on Ukraine.
Since then, Beijing has stood out by refusing to join international outcry over the invasion, while taking the Russian line in blaming the United States and NATO for European tensions. Chinese authorities even refuse to refer to the invasion as a "war," again in keeping with Kremlin talking points.
But China has also tried to remain somewhat ambiguous, declaring support for Ukraine's sovereignty.
Brookings Institution fellow Ryan Hass, a former advisor on China to president Barack Obama, said Beijing has to sort through its clashing priorities.
Despite the coziness with Moscow, China -- the world's biggest exporter -- is tightly bound to the US and other Western economies. It also wants to play a leadership role in the world.
"China's and Russia's interests are not in alignment. Putin is an arsonist of the international system and President Xi sees himself as an architect for remaking and improving the international system," Hass said.
"President Xi is trying to balance competing priorities. He really places a lot of value in China's partnership with Russia but at the same time he does not want to undermine China's relations in the West."