Beijing has strongly denied Washington’s claims that Russia requested military equipment from China to support its war in Ukraine, as Chinese and U.S. representatives met in Italy Monday.
Officials in the United States briefed multiple media outlets anonymously Sunday, asserting that Moscow had sought military equipment from China after launching the invasion on Feb. 24, sparking concerns that Beijing might undermine Western efforts to aid Ukraine.
Asked about the claims Monday, Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters, “The U.S. side has been spreading malicious disinformation against China on the Ukraine issue with sinister intentions.”
“China’s position on the Ukraine issue is consistent and clear, and China has been playing a constructive role in promoting peace talks,” he said. “It is imperative that all parties exercise restraint and cool down tensions, not add fuel to the fire.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also denied the U.S. claims, saying Russia has sufficient military clout to achieve all its aims in Ukraine in time and in full.
China typically purchases weapons from Russia, not the other way around, but Moscow has struggled in its invasion of Ukraine amid fierce resistance and may be seeking to backfill some of its losses as Western countries provide weapons and other supplies to Kyiv.
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday that Washington was “watching closely” to see if China provides “any form of support” – including economic assistance – to Russia.
“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,” he told CNN. “We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia.”
Mr. Sullivan met with Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy official, in Rome Monday, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported, without providing any details of the discussions. The White House has yet to release a readout, though it previously said the two men would focus on “the impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine on regional and global security.”
Beijing has faced intense Western pressure for refusing to denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, abstaining from votes condemning it at the United Nations and walking a delicate line publicly of neither supporting nor criticizing Moscow’s decision.
While China has attempted to present itself as a neutral party, potentially even one that may help bring about an end to the war, U.S. officials previously claimed Beijing was briefed about Russia’s plans and chose not to intervene. Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Chinese President Xi Jinping weeks before the invasion, during the Winter Olympics in Beijing, and the two leaders released a joint statement criticizing the West and blasting NATO expansion – which Mr. Putin has cited as a main reason for the invasion.
On Sunday Mr. Sullivan said, “We believe that China, in fact, was aware before the invasion took place that Vladimir Putin was planning something.
“They may not have understood the full extent of it because it’s very possible Putin lied to them the way he lied to Europeans and others.”
Beijing has denied it was briefed about Russia’s plans – or that it asked Moscow not to launch the invasion during the Olympics – calling such reports “fake news.”
While China has repeatedly called for dialogue over Ukraine, it has not backed away from Moscow, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying last week that relations between the two countries were “rock solid” no matter “how precarious and challenging the international situation.”
Chinese officials and state media have also boosted conspiracy theories about the war, heavily promoting dubious claims by the Russian Defence Ministry that it had discovered a “U.S.-financed military biological program” in Ukraine.
Mr. Sullivan said such claims were “a tell” that the Russians “themselves may be preparing to do so, and then trying to pin the blame on someone else.
“That’s a classic page out of the Russian playbook,” he said, adding that “if Russia were to use chemical weapons in Ukraine, they would pay a severe price.”
Relations between Washington and Beijing have improved little since U.S. President Joe Biden took office last year, despite hopes on both sides for a reset after the tumultuous period of the Trump administration.
Mr. Biden held a video meeting with Mr. Xi in November that many saw as making major progress, but it was undermined by Washington’s decision days later to stage a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics over China’s human-rights violations in its Xinjiang region and Hong Kong.
Another major point of contention is Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China claims as part of its territory. Many have raised parallels between the invasion of Ukraine and Beijing’s oft-stated threat to seize Taiwan by force.
In the past two years, Chinese aircraft have repeatedly flown sorties along the edges of Taiwanese airspace, and People’s Liberation Army forces have staged military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, which separates the island from mainland China.
As Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Yang were meeting Monday, Taiwan said it was forced to scramble fighter planes to warn away 13 Chinese aircraft that had entered its air defence zone, an area that extends over much of the strait.
With a report from Reuters.
Parts of the 2,500-kilometre-long labyrinth of tunnels under port city in Ukraine are now being prepared for use once again as bomb shelters. The Globe’s Mark MacKinnon visited some of the tunnels, which were originally dug in the 19th century, then converted into bomb shelters during the Cold War and have since have since fallen into disuse.
The Globe and Mail
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