WASHINGTON (AP) – A US official said Russia asked China for military equipment to use in its invasion of Ukraine, a request that heightened tensions over the ongoing war ahead of a Monday meeting in Rome between top aides to the US and Chinese governments.
Ahead of the talks, White House National Security Adviser Jake 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.
The prospect of China offering Russia economic aid is one of several concerns for President Joe Biden. A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues, said that in recent days Russia had requested support from China, including military equipment, to push forward in its ongoing war with Ukraine. The official did not provide details on the scope of the request. The request was first reported by the Financial Times and The Washington Post.
The Biden administration also accuses China of spreading Russian misinformation, which could be a pretext for Russian President Vladimir 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.
In his talks with senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi, Sullivan will really look for limits on what Beijing will do for Moscow.
“I’m not going to sit here in public and wave threats,” he told CNN in a round of Sunday’s news show interviews. “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.
“We will not allow it to move forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country anywhere in the world,” he said.
In brief comments on the negotiations, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian did not mention Ukraine, saying that “the key issue for this meeting is to implement the important consensus reached by the Chinese and US heads of state at their virtual summit last November.”
“They will exchange views on China-US relations and international and regional issues of common interest,” Zhao said in comments posted on the ministry’s website late Sunday.
The White House said the talks would focus on the direct impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine on regional and global security.
Officials in the Biden administration say Beijing is spreading false Russian allegations that Ukraine operates chemical and biological weapons laboratories with US support. They say China 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 told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “it’s a good message that they may be 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 allegation was reiterated by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, 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.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called the allegations “vain.”
There is growing concern inside the White House that China is joining Russia over the Ukraine war in the hope that it will advance Beijing’s “vision of the world order” in the long run, according to a person familiar with administrative thinking. The person was not authorized to comment publicly and commented on condition of anonymity.
Sullivan told “Face the Nation” on CBS that the Russian rhetoric about chemical and biological warfare is “an indicator that the Russians are actually getting ready to do it and try 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 the Russians for their invasion of Ukraine. China’s leader Xi Jinping hosted Putin for the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, 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 storing weapons of mass destruction, though none were 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.”
Sullivan and Yang last met for face-to-face talks in Switzerland, where Sullivan raised the Biden administration’s concerns about China’s military provocations against Taiwan, human rights abuses against ethnic minorities and efforts to suppress pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong.
That meeting set the stage for one three hour long virtual meeting in November between Biden and Xi.
Sullivan will also meet Luigi Mattiolo, diplomatic adviser to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, while in Rome.
Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.