In advance of the talks on Monday, White House NSA Jake Sullivan bluntly warned China to avoid helping Russia evade punishment from global sanctions that have hammered the Russian economy.
“We will not allow that to go forward,” he said.
The White House said the talks in Rome will focus on the direct effect of Russia’s war against Ukraine on regional and global security.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in recent days, Russia had requested support from China – including military equipment – to press forward in its ongoing war with Ukraine. The official did not provide details on the scope of the request. The request was first reported by the Financial Times and The Washington Post newspapers.
The Biden administration is also accusing China of spreading Russian disinformation that could be a pretext for President Vladimir Putin’s forces to attack Ukraine with chemical or biological weapons.
Beijing on Monday accused Washington of spreading “disinformation” over China’s role in the Ukraine war, ahead of talks between the two countries’ envoys in Rome.
Without directly addressing US media reports of a Russian request for help from Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “The US has been spreading disinformation targeting China on the Ukraine issue, with malicious intentions.”
Lifeline against Russia sanctions not ‘allowed’
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put China in a delicate spot with two of its biggest trading partners: the US and the European Union. China needs access to those markets, yet it has also shown support for Moscow, joining with Russia in declaring a friendship with “no limits”.
In his talks with senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi, Sullivan will indeed be looking for limits in what Beijing will do for Moscow.
“I’m not going to sit here publicly and brandish threats,” he told CNN on Sunday. “But what I will tell you is we are communicating directly and privately to Beijing that there absolutely will be consequences” if China helps Russia “backfill” its losses from the sanctions.
“We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country anywhere in the world,” Sullivan said.
In brief comments on the talks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian did not mention Ukraine, saying the “key issue of this meeting is to implement the important consensus reached by the Chinese and US heads of state in their virtual summit in November last year”.
“They will exchange views on China-US relations and international and regional issues of common concern,” Zhao said in comments posted on the ministry’s website late on Sunday.
China-Russa cosy relations
China has been one of the few countries to avoid criticising the Russians for their invasion of Ukraine. China’s leader Xi Jinping hosted Putin for the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing just three weeks before Russia invaded on February 24.
During Putin’s visit, the two leaders issued a 5,000-word statement declaring limitless friendship.
China abstained on the United Nations votes censuring Russia and criticised economic sanctions against Moscow. It has expressed its support for peace talks and offered its services as a mediator, despite questions about its neutrality and scant experience mediating international conflict.
But questions remain over how far Beijing will go to alienate the West and put its own economy at risk. Sullivan said China and all countries are on notice that they cannot “basically bail Russia out … give Russia a workaround to the sanctions” with impunity.
Chinese officials have said Washington should not be able to complain about Russia’s actions because the US invaded Iraq under false pretences. The US claimed to have evidence Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction though none was ever found.
On CNN, Sullivan said the administration believes China knew that Putin “was planning something” before the invasion of Ukraine. But he said the Chinese government “may not have understood the full extent of it because it’s very possible that Putin lied to them the same way that he lied to Europeans and others.”