China Warns U.S. of Grave Consequences if Ukraine Joins NATO

China warned the United States it could face severe consequences—including the prospect of nuclear war—if it allows Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), drawing the 30-member alliance into the country's conflict with Russia.

In a Sunday editorial in the state-owned Global Times, Beijing warned that allowing the country into the alliance—as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has requested—would lead to an inevitable escalation in the conflict, prompting Russian President Vladimir Putin's threats to use nuclear arms against the West.

While unlikely—U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan stated in a White House press briefing last week that NATO should delay talks on allowing the country into the alliance—the newspaper warned "all European countries will tremble under the shadow of a possible nuclear war" should it take place, and called for the Western alliance to withdraw from its longstanding involvement in Eastern Europe.

"In that case, there will be no security for anyone, not for Ukraine, and not for the world," the newspaper wrote. "Instead of pursuing resolutions to end the conflict, Washington has, over and over again, displayed that the US is charging toward the other direction—fanning the flames of war."

Xi Jinping Vladimir Putin
Above, China's President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are seen on September 15. China warned the United States in a Sunday editorial that it could face severe consequences—including the prospect of nuclear war—if it allows Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), drawing the 30-member alliance into the country's conflict with Russia. Alexandr Demyanchuk/Sputnik / AFP

The editorial comes amid a series of comments by traditional Russian allies like India and the Chechen Republic expressing misgivings either over the war or the prospect of deploying nuclear weapons in the conflict. In recent weeks, Putin has publicly acknowledged China itself has expressed some concern with the direction of the war as the two countries have sought to align themselves as a bulwark to the West.

David Shullman, senior director of the Atlantic Council's Global China Hub, told Newsweek that the Global Times editorial should not be read as a willingness from Beijing to end the war, but rather, a call to the West to cede to Russia's position that the U.S. and NATO are to blame for the conflict, and that Russia's invasion of Ukraine was legitimate under the pretext it felt threatened by NATO's expansion into the country.

"Yes, China does legitimately want the war to end, because it does not serve its strategic aims and the war clearly not going well for Russia, Beijing's most important strategic partner," Shullman wrote in an email. "But rather than encourage any change on Putin's part, Xi is doubling down on blame of the U.S. and NATO as the bad actors somehow forcing Putin to increasingly threaten the West. Unfortunately, we should expect no significant effort from Xi Jinping to use China's supposed leverage with Russia to encourage a more responsible tack from Russia. "

The editorial comes amid a tumultuous week in the conflict in which Putin delivered a nationally televised address declaring the country would be annexing four occupied territories along the Russia-Ukraine border, marking another escalation in Russia's nearly eight-month long campaign in the country amid nationwide protests over the country's newly instituted conscription policy.

Though the U.S. has so far avoided direct military involvement in the war, Congress put its stamp of approval on approximately $12 billion in additional aid to the war effort late last week. President Joe Biden—once a supporter of Ukrainian efforts to join NATO prior to Russia's invasion—issued his own warning to Russian forces, hinting at dire consequences in the event Russian forces invaded any bordering NATO-aligned countries in Eastern Europe.

"America's fully prepared with our NATO allies to defend every single inch of NATO territory. Every single inch," Biden said in Friday remarks in Washington, D.C.

NATO, meanwhile, has openly expressed support for Ukraine's efforts to retake territory claimed by Russia over the course of the conflict—a process that already seems to be taking place.

Just one day after Putin announced the annexation of Lyman—a strategic city in the Donetsk region of Ukraine—Russian forces retreated from the city under heavy fire from Ukrainian forces, while several other occupied cities in the Kherson region were liberated from Russian control.