The United States will try to persuade China not to supply arms to Russia at a high-level meeting in Rome that the White House considers crucial not only for the war in Ukraine but also for the future of the global balance of power.
Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, will meet his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, in the Italian capital amid reports that Russia has asked China for weapons to bolster its faltering invasion of Ukraine.
China on Monday reacted angrily to multiple media reports citing US officials. His Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, said the United States was spreading “malicious disinformation”, with “sinister intentions”, according to translations from reporters in the room.
“China‘s position on the Ukraine issue is consistent and clear, and China has played a constructive role in promoting the peace talks,” Zhao said. “It is imperative that all parties exercise restraint and ease tensions, not add fuel to the fire.”
Sullivan will point out at the Rome meeting that the United States informed Beijing of Vladimir Putin’s intentions months before the invasion, but that Chinese leaders ignored those warnings, mistakenly believing that Putin was bluffing to gain influence. , according to sources familiar with the plans for the Roman Encounter. Sullivan will also argue that if China supplies weapons to Moscow, it will be another historic mistake and a turning point in world politics.
The Biden White House is keen to prevent the war in Ukraine from further cementing a division of the world into two opposing blocs.
Sullivan and Yang will also follow through on agreements reached by Joe Biden and Xi Jinping at a virtual summit in November, to improve crisis communications between the two nuclear powers.
“We are also watching closely the extent to which China actually provides any form of support – material support or economic support – to Russia,” Sullivan said. told CNN. “That is one of our concerns. And we have made it clear to Beijing that we will not sit idly by and allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses due to economic sanctions.
Sullivan said the United States had made it clear to Beijing that there would be “absolutely consequences” for “large-scale” efforts to help Russia circumvent sanctions.
Russia has also asked China for economic aid as it faces harsh Western sanctions, but Sullivan told CNN the United States is “communicating directly and privately to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences. if China helped Russia evade sanctions.
the FinancialTimes, New York Times and Washington Post reported Sunday on Russia’s demand for weapons, as US officials said the Russian military lacked certain types of armaments and had been looking for weapons in Beijing for some time.
Spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, told CNN he had “never heard of” the Russian arms requests.
“The current situation in Ukraine is indeed disconcerting,” he said in a statement. “The high priority now is to prevent the tense situation from escalating or even spiraling out of control.”
“It looks like US-China relations are heading for a pretty big fork,” said Ryan Hass, former China director at the US National Security Council. said on Twitter. “If China contributes materially to the Russian war machine in Ukraine through the supply of material or significant backfilling, then China’s actions will accelerate the splitting of the world towards antagonistic blocs.
“It is wise for the United States to speak directly and privately with the Chinese at an authoritative level now to clarify the lasting strategic ramifications of China’s decisions at this time.”
China has so far failed to condemn the Russian invasion or the massacres of civilians in the bombardment of Ukrainian cities, and has abstained on resolutions deploring the attack at the Security Council and General Assembly in the UN. Xi called last week for “maximum restraint” in Ukraine after a virtual meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, and said he was “pained to see the flames of war rekindling in Europe”.
Xi also expressed concern about the sanctions’ impact on the global economy and the limitation Western sanctions place on China’s ability to buy Russian oil.
Hass, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said he didn’t expect to see immediate breakthroughs at the Rome meeting. “Results can take weeks or longer to work out,” he said. “Neither side is likely to satisfy the other. Results may need to be measured in degrees, not black-white binaries.
Wen-ti Sung, a political scientist at the Australian National University, said he thought the likelihood of China supplying arms to Russia was “low”.
“To do so would be both too late to help the distant war in Ukraine and would be very bad for Beijing. It’s not worth it,” he said.
However, Sung said the US’s public broadcast of Russia’s demands – which were still of great concern – had also allowed him to pressure Beijing over its civilian trade with Russia, which could include parts and components. non-military materials that can be used in the production of weapons.
“By flagging the possibility of China providing military aid, Washington is actually setting up talking points to push China to limit ‘civilian commercial relations’ with Russia and to join (even partially) international economic sanctions against Russia. Russia,” Sung said.
“If it works, it will reduce Sino-Russian trade and further weaken Russia; if not, it will help reinforce the image of “China is Russia’s catalyst” and claim a high moral standing for the United States vis-à-vis China. »
Professor Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute, said Xi would not want to put China’s economy at risk during a year when his top priority is to secure a third term.
“China under Xi will give all the support it can to help Putin, but it won’t allow itself to suffer secondary sanctions like it does, despite the [agreement] of ‘rock-solid’ support and ‘boundless’ friendship,” he said.