U.S. and Allies Tell China to Stop Supporting Russia's War in Ukraine

The United States and its closest allies have begun a campaign of coordinated messaging this week to urge China not to involve itself in Russia's war against Ukraine.

It began with the disclosure of U.S. intelligence to the London-based Financial Times and other American news outlets over the weekend. They reported Washington's understanding that Beijing had signaled its willingness to provide military aid to Moscow to help sustain Russian President Vladimir Putin's pressure against Kyiv.

China, which has maintained a position some have described as "pro-Russia neutrality," denied on Monday that it had received any requests for support, calling reports to the contrary "disinformation." Although China says it's "not a party" to the conflict, officials in the West already see Beijing's refusal to join sanctions as a form of financial backing for Moscow, and they fear it could rise to the level of material assistance.

Doing the media rounds on Tuesday, James Cleverly, the minister for Europe and North America at the U.K.'s Foreign Office, acknowledged regular intelligence sharing between the transatlantic allies, and said he had seen the newspaper reports suggesting Beijing was considering helping Moscow.

'Unprovoked, Illegal Attack'

"What we're saying to all countries is that they should denounce this unprovoked, illegal attack into Ukraine by Russia. They should not in any way be supporting Russia," he told Sky News. "There is no justification at all for this attack, and we urge China and all countries around the world to denounce it and absolutely not to support it."

"Well, we haven't had that statement from China," Cleverly told Sky's Kay Burley when asked whether Beijing had offered any guarantees that it would stay out of the conflict.

The official was also on radio station LBC. He told presenter Nick Ferrari: "The message that we send to China, and indeed everybody else, is that this war is illegal, it's unprovoked and it must not be supported. We call upon countries to join us and others in sanctioning Russia and choking off their ability to fund this illegal and unjustified war. That is the message that we'll take very strongly to China as well."

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China had already thrown its considerable political weight behind Moscow's grievances against NATO. Since February 24, it has refrained from condemning Russia's bombardment of Ukrainian cities; at the United Nations, it has abstained in all votes to that effect.

Last week, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told the U.K.'s Foreign Affairs Select Committee that Beijing wouldn't want to "associate too closely" with a "global pariah" like Russia. At the same time, she saw the strong NATO response as a direct message to China as well.

"For the first time, China have been talking about who should and should not be a member of NATO, which is clearly not a matter for them," said Truss. "Of course, if we see a weak NATO, that is likely to embolden China. So I see a tough policy on Russia and a tough policy on China as being complementary."

By contrast, U.S. warnings have been much more direct and leave little room for imagination in a scenario where Beijing decides to provide Moscow with meaningful support. According to the Financial Times, The Washington Post and CNN, American intelligence believes Russia is seeking military equipment as well as army rations for its remaining 170,000 troops inside Ukraine.

The Biden administration has also warned of repercussions for Beijing if it tries to buttress Russia's collapsing economy. National security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN over the weekend: "It is a concern of ours, and we have communicated to Beijing that we will not stand by and allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses from the economic sanctions."

"We are communicating directly, privately to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions evasion efforts or support to Russia to backfill them," he said. "We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country, anywhere in the world."

Sullivan's remarks came shortly before he met Yang Jiechi, China's top foreign policy official, for seven-hour talks in Rome on Monday, which covered U.S.-China relations and their divergent views on Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

U.S., U.K. Warn China Against Russia Aid
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping meeting in Beijing on February 4, 2022. The leaders signed an unprecedented joint statement that touted a "no limits" partnership between Moscow and Beijing, which aligned against the West and NATO. But the strategic friendship has been put to the test by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. ALEXEI DRUZHININ/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images