US President Joe Biden has reiterated his warning to China against coming to Russia’s aid in Ukraine, saying that he made clear such assistance would incur “consequences” in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday, the United States president said Xi understands that China’s economic interests lie with the West, not Russia.
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“I made no threats, but I pointed out the number of American and foreign corporations who left Russia as a consequence of their [Russia’s] barbaric behaviour,” Biden said of his conversation with the Chinese leader.
Biden added that he told Xi that “he’d be putting himself at significant jeopardy” in his efforts to strengthen economic ties with the US and Europe if China were to move forward with aid to Russia.
Washington has been cautioning Beijing against helping Moscow for weeks amid reports that Russia has requested military assistance from China.
Since Russia launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine on February 24, China has taken a neutral stance publicly, backing talks to end the deadly conflict while urging “maximum restraint” and de-escalation.
US officials have declined to share their assessment on whether they think China has decided to assist Russia with its war efforts.
On Wednesday, China backed a Russian-draft resolution on humanitarian aid access to Ukraine that was rejected by Western nations because it did not assign blame for the crisis. The proposal failed, with only Beijing and Moscow voting in favour of it while the other 13 Security Council members abstained.
“On the Ukraine issue, China has made its view known that the international community should focus on two things, namely, peace talks and avoidance of a large-scale humanitarian crisis,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Zhao Lijian said last week.
Washington and its allies have been piling sanctions on the Russian economy as well as President Vladimir Putin and elites in his inner circle. On Thursday, Biden called for creating a Western-led body to track any evasion of those sanctions.
“We also did discuss today that there’s a need for us to set up – NATO to set up and the EU to set up – a system whereby we have an organisation looking at who has violated any of these sanctions, and where and when and how they violate them,” Biden told reporters.
Experts say imposing sanctions on China, should it assist Russia with the war in Ukraine, would not be as easy as the US-led campaign to penalise Moscow.
“It is much more difficult simply because of the much larger economic ties that the US has with China,” Christopher Heurlin, associate professor of government and Asian studies at Bowdoin College, told Al Jazeera earlier this month.
“Obviously, there are far more businesses in the US that do business with China. That would make it a lot more costly to try to link our economic relationship to foreign policy,” Heurlin said.
As the invasion entered its second month on Thursday, the war in Ukraine has pushed more than 3.6 million people to flee the country as Russian forces continue to besiege and bombard Ukrainian towns and cities.
During his news conference on Thursday, Biden warned Putin against using chemical weapons in Ukraine. “We will respond if he uses it. The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use,” Biden said.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier this week that Russia would only use nuclear weapons if its very existence were threatened.
“We have a concept of domestic security, and it’s public. You can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used,” Peskov said on Tuesday in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who had asked whether he was “convinced or confident” Putin would not use the nuclear option in the Ukrainian context.
Peskov continued: “So if it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be used in accordance with our concept.”