U.S., China clash over Beijing’s support to Russia

Top officials Jake Sullivan and Yang Jiechi hold talks in Rome

Updated - March 15, 2022 07:26 pm IST

Published - March 15, 2022 12:35 pm IST - Hong Kong

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan . File

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan . File | Photo Credit: Reuters

The United States on Monday warned China that it “will not stand by” should it provide military support to Russia, while Beijing pushed back against what it called “disinformation” that “smeared” its stand on the Ukraine issue, as senior officials from the two countries met in Rome.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s meeting with Communist Party of China Politburo member Yang Jiechi, who is Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, had “substantial discussion of Russia’s war against Ukraine”, the White House said in a brief readout, adding that both officials “underscored the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and China.”

On the eve of the talks, U.S. officials were quoted as saying they believed Russia had sought Chinese military support, which Beijing was considering. Asked to confirm those claims, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters, “I am not confirming anything from here. What I will say is we are watching very closely the extent to which the PRC, or any other country for that matter, provides any form of support, whether that is material support, economic support, financial support to Russia…any such support from anywhere in the world will be of great concern to us.”

“It would, of course, be the greatest concern if a country like the PRC were to be doing that,” he added, “a country that by the way has tremendous leverage with Russia, a relationship with Russia that is distinct from the relationship that we or just about any other country on the planet has with Russia, and with that in mind could do more than probably many other countries to bring an end to this senseless violence, this brutality, to Putin’s premeditated war of choice. We have communicated very clearly to Beijing that we won’t stand by.... we won’t allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses.”

The U.S. has been seeking China’s cooperation on Ukraine, which was, for Washington, clearly the focus of the talks in Rome. However, the Chinese side has been emphasising that the talks in Rome were not only about Ukraine or Russia, and that the U.S. could not seek cooperation with China on some issues while long-standing differences remained in others.

Beijing released two separate statements on the meeting, appearing to underline that message. A longer readout focused on problems in the China-U.S. relationship and Beijing’s displeasure at recent U.S. moves on Taiwan, while a shorter separate statement was on Ukraine.

At the same time, China has been seeking to strike a balance in its response to Ukraine, standing by its close ally Russia while looking to deflect criticism from the U.S. and the West and not aggravate already tense relations with them.

The Foreign Ministry said Mr. Yang clarified China’s position on Ukraine, which “advocated respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity” of all countries, but also called for the “root causes” of the crisis and “legitimate concerns of all parties” to be addressed, including by building a “sustainable” security architecture for Europe.

The Chinese official also pointedly referred to Beijing “resolutely opposing any words or actions that spread false information that smears and discredits” China’s stand, which appeared to be referring to the claims made by Washington on the eve of the talks on its possible military support to Russia.

On the bilateral front, Mr. Yang said Beijing hoped the U.S. would “put into practice” commitments made by President Joe Biden, including to “not support ‘Taiwan independence’”, which was “a matter of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” He said while the current U.S. administration “made commitments to uphold the one-China policy and not support ‘Taiwan independence’” its “actions were clearly inconsistent with its statements”. The two sides also discussed Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan besides the crisis in Ukraine, the Foreign Ministry said.

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