A United States official says Russia has asked China for military equipment to use in its invasion of Ukraine, a request that heightened tensions about the ongoing war before a meeting between senior US and Chinese officials in Rome.
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.
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“We will not allow that to go forward,” he said.
The White House said the talks in the Italian capital 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.
But Beijing on Monday accused Washington of spreading “disinformation” over China’s role in the Ukraine war.
Without directly addressing the 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.”
Einar Tangen, senior international fellow at the Taihe Institute, a China-based think-tank, told Al Jazeera Beijing was not interested in providing military support.
“China has already said it quite clearly that they oppose the West putting more arms and ammunition into Ukraine as they see it as adding oil to fire. So it would be hypocritical if they were to start helping Russia,” Tangen said.
“In terms of economics, nothing has changed,” he said. “From China’s perspective, the US has in essence engineered a tragedy [and] the Russians have also been at fault by invading another country. But when you get down to it, two wrongs do not make a right,” added Tangen, noting that China was pushing for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
The Kremlin also denied it has sought Chinese military help. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that Russia has not asked China for military assistance and has sufficient military clout to fulfil all of its aims in Ukraine.
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.”