U.S. Doubles Down on Claims China Will Help Russia in Ukraine

American officials appear to be concerned that China's support for Russia, which is under severe international sanctions after the invasion of Ukraine, will go beyond financial assistance and include the provision of military aid.

The view emerged following an intense seven-hour meeting between President Joe Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and China's top foreign affairs official, Yang Jiechi, in Rome on Monday. The U.S. is yet to publicly corroborate a string of reports claiming Moscow asked Beijing for help and received a positive response.

According to reports by the Financial Times, The Washington Post, CNN and Hong Kong's South China Morning Post—Russia's request included military hardware such as attack drones and ammunition, but also field rations for the roughly 170,000 soldiers who remain deployed inside Ukraine as part of Vladimir Putin's increasingly protracted war. China's officials and state-run media have described the latest U.S. intelligence disclosure as "disinformation."

Beijing was among the first countries to openly dismiss the possibility of joining the West's sweeping sanctions against Moscow. By doing so, it offered the Kremlin a slim economic lifeline through substantial two-way trade, but it also left open the suspicion that it could assist Russia in evading sanctions.

China's pro-Russia image, especially its unprecedented pushback against NATO, was likely on the U.S.'s agenda for the Rome summit. Those familiar with the talks painted a pessimistic picture that showed a significant divergence in the positions of the two sides.

'Deep Concerns' About China

"The key here is first to get China to recalculate and re-evaluate their position. We see no sign of that re-evaluation," a U.S. official told The Guardian on Monday. "They've already decided that they're going to provide economic and financial support, and they underscored that today. The question really is whether they will go further."

At the White House's post-summit media briefing, a senior administration official said the U.S. had "deep concerns about China's alignment with Russia at this time." Sullivan conveyed to Yang the "potential implications and consequences of certain actions," the official said.

Ahead of the talks in Italy, Biden's national security adviser told CNN that the U.S. was "watching closely" the extent of China's economic or material support for Russia.

"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," Sullivan said.

"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."

In the Chinese readout of the Rome talks, Yang backed peace talks as a way to de-escalate the conflict between Moscow and Kyiv. "All parties should exercise maximum restraint, protect civilians and prevent a massive humanitarian crisis," he said.

As part of Beijing's efforts to appear neutral on the hostilities, Chinese officials don't describe Putin's military campaign as an "invasion" or a "war." They have also refrained from openly criticizing the indiscriminate bombing of Ukraine's cities by Russian forces. But Yang told Sullivan that any suggestion Beijing was supportive of Moscow's actions was a distortion of China's actual position.

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U.S. Fears China Support for Russia's War
This combination of photographs shows China’s top foreign affairs official, Yang Jiechi, left; and President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan. Yang and Sullivan met in Rome for seven hours of talks on U.S.-China relations and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, on March 14, 2022. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images