This content was published on May 3, 2022 – 10:06
By Steve Holland, Trevor Hunnicutt and David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two months after the warning that Beijing appeared ready to help Russia in its fight against Ukraine, senior US officials say they have not discovered overt Chinese military and economic support, a welcome development in the tense relationship between the United States and China.
U.S. officials have told Reuters in recent days that they remain vigilant about China’s long-standing support for Russia in general, but that the military and economic support they were concerned about has not materialized, at least right now. The relief comes at a crucial time.
President Joe Biden is preparing for a trip to Asia later this month dominated by how to deal with China’s progress, and his administration will soon release its first national security strategy on China’s emergence as a major power.
In addition to directly supporting Russia’s war effort, China has avoided concluding new contracts between its state oil refineries and Russia despite hefty discounts. In March, its state-run Sinopec Group suspended negotiations on a major petrochemical investment and a gas marketing project in Russia.
Last month, the US envoy to the UN praised China’s failure to vote by UN votes to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “victory”, and stressed how Beijing’s forced balance between Russia and the West could be the best outcome for Washington.
Yet China has refused to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine and has criticized the extensive Western sanctions against Moscow, saying it is not deliberately helping to circumvent them.
Trade volumes between Russia and China also rose in the first quarter, and the two declared a “no limits” partnership in February.
On Monday, the Beijing Embassy in Beijing issued a 30-page newsletter accusing the United States of spreading “falsehoods” to discredit China over Ukraine, including through a press release in March that said Russia had sought Chinese military aid. The embassy noted that US officials had since said they had not seen evidence that China provided such support.
Biden himself has not said that China has helped Russia since telling reporters in Brussels on March 24 that in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he “made sure he understood the consequences.”
Foreign Minister Antony Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that China is dealing with the “significant reputational risk” of being Russia’s ally and that “for now we do not see significant support from China for Russia’s military actions.”
Biden will visit Tokyo and Seoul in what will be his first trip to Asia as president – a trip that does not include a stop in China. He will also meet with Indian and Australian leaders during a ‘Quad’ meeting in Tokyo.
China has made Russia a central part of its foreign policy strategy to counter the West. Biden aides were concerned that Xi was planning to provide direct support to Russian President Vladimir Putin as his campaign in Ukraine faced violent setbacks, a US official said.
They were encouraged that this has not happened so far, but Washington and its allies continue to closely monitor the level of assistance, the official said.
Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the German Marshall Fund in the US, said that sharp warnings from the US and the EU have paid off so far.
“There have been consistent reports that if China does, it will have serious consequences. It looks like the Chinese have not done so so far. It is possible that the Chinese planned to provide military assistance and changed their minds,” he said. she said.
But US officials remain concerned about China’s refusal to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and what they are saying is its continued search for Russian disinformation over its intervention there.
Deputy Foreign Minister Wendy Sherman said on April 21 that Beijing had “repeatedly drawn false equivalence between Russia’s war of aggression and Ukraine’s self-defense actions.”
She added: “Let’s be clear, China is already doing things that do not help this situation.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland, David Brunnstrom and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Heather Timmons and Richard Pullin)