As tension in Ukraine worsens, diplomatic contacts are multiplying on the margins. The White House National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, meets this Monday in Rome with the highest representative of Chinese diplomacy, State Councilor Yang Jiechi. The meeting takes place between fears in NATO that the Russian attacks could provoke an incident in allied territory; when, according to US officials, Moscow has asked China to send military equipment – something that Beijing denies as “disinformation” – and on the same day that Ukraine and Russia resume their negotiations.
In two statements issued by their respective governments late this Sunday, it was indicated that the two senior officials will address “regional” issues and try to keep their lines of communication open. The White House Security Council statement specified that both will address “the impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine on global and regional security.” The version of the Chinese Foreign Ministry does not mention Ukraine, and only refers to “international and global issues of interest to both”.
China has refused to describe what is happening in Ukraine as a “war” or “invasion”, referring to it as a “situation”, “crisis” or “conflict”. Its media, controlled by the government or rigidly censored, follow the official line when it comes to reporting. Diplomats and official media have echoed Russian accusations without evidence in which they denounce the existence of almost thirty US chemical weapons laboratories in Ukraine.
Sullivan has made it clear that he intends to warn Yang about any possibility of helping Russia in the conflict, either by throwing it a lifeline to evade or alleviate the sanctions that the West has imposed on Moscow, or by harming Ukraine. “We are communicating privately and directly to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences in response to attempts at large-scale evasion of sanctions, or support for Russia to alleviate them,” the White House adviser said in an interview broadcast this Sunday. on the CNN television network. “We will not allow that to happen and Russia will have a lifeline against those sanctions by any country, anywhere in the world.”
Sullivan did not make explicit reference to the supply of military equipment, but senior US defense officials have assured that Moscow has requested such shipments from Beijing, without detailing the exact type of material. In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry has described these accusations as “disinformation coming from the United States.” In Washington, Chinese embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu denied knowing of any suggestion that Beijing intends to assist its strategic partner. “China is deeply concerned and pained by the situation in Ukraine,” he said, “we hope that the situation will calm down and peace will return as soon as possible.”
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Traditionally, China – the world’s second largest defense investor after the United States and with military spending of some 200,000 million euros, which will grow by 7.1% this year – has bought weapons from Russia, the third country in the world by military budget. But Beijing, which is modernizing its Army at a forced march, has equipment that could be useful to Moscow in this war, from drones to ammunition.
Since the beginning of the war, China has opted for a position of neutrality biased in favor of Russia. Moscow is the strategic partner with whom she reckons she will be able to stand up to the United States and perceived attempts by Washington to limit Chinese influence on the global stage. She made it clear with the meeting in Beijing on February 4 between the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and the Russian, Vladimir Putin, in which both proclaimed a “limitless” relationship. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated this at a press conference a week ago: cooperation between the two capitals is “solid as a rock” and will continue to deepen “no matter how dark the circumstances.”
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