The U.S. and China held their first high-level talks since the start of the Ukraine war, and the White House warned allies that Moscow sought armed drones from Beijing in late February as it started its assault, Bloomberg reported citing people familiar with the matter.
The Biden administration and China described their in-person talks as “substantial” and “constructive,” respectively, although neither announced any specific outcomes. Rabobank’s Michael Every had a slightly different take: the “key meeting between the US and China in Rome obviously did not go well. Pre-meeting, I was informed the article doing the rounds from a Chinese academic saying Beijing should dump Russia for the West was banned from circulation in China. The official US read-out was bare bones, which is the diplomatic practice when there is nothing positive to say.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. has warned European allies that Russia asked China for surface-to-air missiles, drones, armored vehicles, logistics vehicles, and intelligence-related equipment – and that China responded positively. Bloomberg notes that the request has alarmed Biden administration officials who are seeking to prevent China from coming to Vladimir Putin’s aid in the war, which could potentially escalate it into a truly World War.
Going back to Every, he writes that “naturally, the implications are enormous – the White House says there will be “consequences” for China if this occurs and the State Department that “we will ensure that no country is able to get away with trying to bail out Russia”. A D.C.-based analyst also Tweets to underline: “The view from Washington is unanimous: a decision by China to aid Russia’s war in Ukraine would be a betrayal of its commitment to act as a responsible great power and would severely and irrevocably damage what remains of the US-China relationship. There is no doubt that China would share in the unprecedented economic and political pain that Russia now suffers as a pariah state. Much of the favor Beijing has had cultivated in Europe over the past 30 years would evaporate overnight.”
Update(1920ET): Going into his Monday meeting in Rome with top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi, Jake Sullivan told CNN the US had been “communicating directly, privately to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions evasion efforts or support to Russia to backfill them” amid the Ukraine war.
In the meeting’s aftermath, a senior Biden admin official was cited in multiple reports as describing Washington’s ‘deep concerns’ conveyed directly lengthy 7-hour meeting:
“It was an intense seven-hour session reflecting the gravity of the moment as well as our commitment to maintaining open lines of communication,” the official said, describing the conversation as “candid” and “direct.”
The official declined comment on whether the U.S. has information that China is providing or is open to providing Moscow with financial and military assistance but did say Sullivan spoke directly about concerns and the “potential implications and consequences of certain actions.”
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Update(1340ET): The Sunday “revelation” – or at least Biden admin ‘official leaks’ – claiming that Russia has formally requested military assistance from China amid the Ukraine invasion has been given more detail in a fresh FT report Monday. It was previously said based on unnamed US sources that Moscow had requested military equipment and arms, including drones – alongside economic assistance. The Chinese embassy in the US had quickly denied knowing anything about such a request.
The new FT report cites classified ”cables, which were sent by the US state department to allies in Europe and Asia, did not say whether China had signalled that it would help Russia in the future or if it had already started providing military support. Nor did they say at which point in the conflict Beijing appeared open to offering the help.”
Despite what seems vague assertions and scant evidence, a US defense official in the new FT piece warned China of serious “consequences” if it provides support to Russia:
“If China does choose to materially support Russia in this war, there will likely be consequences for China,” the defense official said.
Following the the heels of the new, slightly more detailed reporting on the allegations – and as White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan meets with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, in Rome on Monday, Beijing has issued a new statement.
China’s foreign ministry states that it has the “right” to “safeguard” its legitimate interests.
See also South China Morning Post