WASHINGTON (AP) – Top advisers to Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met in Rome on Monday to discuss China’s support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, although the Kremlin rejected reports that it had requested Chinese military equipment for use in the war.
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi spoke 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.
Sullivan sought clarity on Beijing’s stance, again warning the Chinese that aid to Russia – including helping it avert the sanctions imposed by the United States and Western allies – would be costly for them.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield downplays Russia’s claim of bio-laboratories in Ukraine
“I’m not going to sit here in public and wave threats,” Sullivan said as he rounded up Sunday’s news broadcasts ahead of his trip to Rome. “But what I want to tell you is that we are communicating directly and privately to Beijing that there will definitely be consequences” if China helps Russia “fill” its losses from the sanctions.
Sullivan and Yang met in Rome amid reports that Russia has asked China for military equipment to use in its invasion of Ukraine.
Prior to the talks, Sullivan directly warned China to avoid helping Russia evade punishment from global sanctions that have hammered the Russian economy. “We will not allow it to move forward,” he said. Russia, however, denied on Monday that it needed China’s help.
“No, Russia has its own potential to continue the operation, which, as we have said, is unfolding according to plan and will be completed on time and in full,” said Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, officials are in the White House discusses President Joe Biden’s trip to Europe to meet with allies for face-to-face talks on the crisis in Ukraine, according to three US officials. Officials, who were not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the trip has not been completed. One possibility is a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels on March 24 with other potential stops in Europe, according to one of the officials.
The prospect of China offering Russia economic aid is one of several concerns for Biden. A US official said Russia had in recent days requested support from China, including military equipment, to push 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. Although Ukraine is overmatched by Russian forces, it is well equipped with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.
The Biden administration also accuses China of spreading Russian disinformation, which could be a pretext for Putin’s forces to attack Ukraine with chemical or biological weapons.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put China in a fragile position with two of its biggest trading partners: the United States and the European Union. China needs access to these markets, but it has also shown support for Moscow and joined Russia in declaring a friendship without borders.
Russian forces are expanding their offensive in Ukraine to the west for the first time. (Source: CNN, POOL, UNTV, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, et al.)
Without giving details, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Monday that “the Ukraine situation will definitely be a hot topic” at the meeting, which was planned before Russia invaded its neighbor.
Asked at a daily briefing on the reported Russian request for assistance, Zhao replied: “The United States has been spreading misinformation directed at China recently about the Ukraine issue. It is malicious.”
“What is pressing now is that all parties should exercise restraint and strive to cool the situation down instead of boosting tensions,” Zhao told reporters. “We should promote diplomatic agreements instead of escalating the situation further.”
The White House said Monday’s Sullivan-Yang talks focused on the direct impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine on regional and global security.
Biden administration officials say Beijing is spreading false Russian allegations that Ukraine operates US-backed chemical and biological weapons laboratories. They say that China is provides effective coverage if Russia goes ahead with a biological or chemical weapons attack on Ukrainians.
As Russia begins to accuse other countries of preparing to launch biological or chemical attacks, Sullivan said Sunday, “it’s a good message that they may be on the verge of doing it themselves.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, on ABC’s “This Week,” said “we have not seen anything indicative of any impending chemical or biological attack right now, but we are following this very, very closely.”
The striking US allegations of Russian disinformation and Chinese involvement came after Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed without proof that the United States funded Ukrainian chemical and biological weapons laboratories.
The Russian claim was reiterated by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao, who claimed there were 26 bio-laboratories and related facilities in “which the US Department of Defense has absolute control over.” The UN has said it has not received any information supporting such allegations.
There are growing concerns in the White House that China is joining Russia over the Ukraine war in the hope that it will advance Beijing’s world order vision in the long run, according to a person familiar with the administration’s view and who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to comment publicly.
Sullivan told CBS that Russia’s rhetoric about chemical and biological warfare is “an indicator that the Russians are actually getting ready to do it and trying to blame elsewhere, and no one should fall for it.”
The international community has assessed that Russia used chemical weapons in an attempt to assassinate Putin opponents such as Alexei Navalny and former spy Sergei Skripal. Russia also supports the Assad government in Syria, which has used chemical weapons against its people in a decades-long civil war.
China has been one of the few countries that has avoided criticizing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. China’s leader Xi Jinping hosted Putin for the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics, just three weeks before Russia invaded on February 24. During Putin’s visit, the two leaders issued a 5,000-word statement declaring boundless “friendship.”
The Chinese abstained from voting in UN votes that censored Russia and criticized 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 little experience in mediating international conflicts.
But there are still questions about how far Beijing will go to alienate the West and put its own economy at risk. Sullivan said China and all countries are aware that they can not “basically save Russia out … give Russia a solution to the sanctions” with impunity.
Chinese officials have said Washington should not be able to complain about Russia’s actions because the United States invaded Iraq under false pretenses. The United States claimed to have evidence that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, though no one was ever found.
On CNN, Sullivan said the administration believes China knew 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 is very possible that Putin lied to them in the same way he lied to Europeans and others.”
Associated Press writers Hope Yen and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed reporting.
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