President Joe Biden’s national security adviser has warned a top Chinese official about China’s support for Russia in the Ukrainian invasion.
S adviser Jake Sullivan and senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi met in Rome, with the Biden administration increasingly concerned that China is using the Ukraine war to advance Beijing’s long-term interest in its competition with the United States.
Mr Sullivan was seeking clarity on Beijing’s posture and was warning the Chinese anew that assistance for Russia — including helping it avert sanctions imposed by the US and Western allies — would be costly for them.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said: “The national security adviser and our delegation raised directly and very clearly our concerns about the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) support to Russia in the wake of the invasion, and the implications that any such support would have for the PRC’s relationship not only with us, but for its relationships around the world.”
Meanwhile, two administration officials said the US had determined that China had signalled to Russia that it would be willing to provide both military support for the campaign in Ukraine and financial backing to help stave off the impact of severe sanctions imposed by the West. The officials said that assessment had been relayed to Western and Asian allies and partners earlier on Monday.
“Moscow has received a positive response from Beijing,” said one official, describing a diplomatic cable sent to US embassies asking for them to inform their host governments of the information. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive information.
Mr Sullivan made clear during an “intense” seven-hour meeting that the Biden administration has deep concerns about China’s alignment with Russia at this time, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Ms Psaki declined to comment on whether the US believes China has already provided the Russians with military, economic or other assistance.
The prospect of China offering Russia financial help is one of several concerns for Mr Biden.
A US official said that in recent days, Russia has requested support from China, including military equipment, to press forward in its ongoing war with Ukraine. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, did not provide details on the scope of the request.
The Russians have seen significant losses of tanks, helicopters and other materiel since the start of the war more than two weeks ago. Ukraine, while overmatched by Russian forces, is well-equipped with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. Russia’s and China’s weapons systems have limited interoperability, and it is not clear what weapons China has that Russia would be in short supply of.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put China in a delicate spot with two of its biggest trading partners: the US and European Union. China needs access to those markets, yet it also has shown support for Moscow, joining with Russia in declaring a friendship with “no limits”.
Asked at a daily briefing about the reported Russian request for assistance, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said: “The US has been spreading disinformation targeting China recently over the Ukraine issue. It is malicious.
“What is pressing now is that all parties should exercise restraint and strive to cool down the situation, rather than fuelling the tension. We should promote diplomatic settlements instead of further escalating the situation.”
Biden administration officials also say Beijing is spreading false Russian claims that Ukraine was running chemical and biological weapons labs with US support. They say China is effectively providing cover if Russia moves ahead with a biological or chemical weapons attack on Ukrainians.
The striking US accusations about Russian disinformation and Chinese complicity came after Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova alleged with no evidence that the US was financing Ukrainian chemical and biological weapons labs.
The Russian claim was echoed by Mr Zhao, who claimed there were 26 bio-labs and related facilities in “which the US Department of Defence has absolute control”. The United Nations said it has received no information backing up such accusations.
China has been one of few countries to avoid criticising the Russians for its invasion of Ukraine. China’s leader Xi Jinping hosted Mr Putin for the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, just three weeks before Russia invaded on February 24. During Mr Putin’s visit, the two leaders issued a 5,000-word statement declaring limitless “friendship”.
The Chinese abstained on UN votes censuring Russia and has criticised economic sanctions against Moscow. But questions remain over how far Beijing will go to alienate the West and put its own economy at risk.