On March 14, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met in Rome with Yang Jiechi, Beijing’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office director. At the top of the agenda was Washington persuading Yang not to help Russia in its unprovoked attack on Ukraine. Sullivan had a challenge, considering the lackluster performance of US diplomats one year ago, during their encounter with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Anchorage, AK. Accounts before Sullivan’s meeting inferred the US would threaten the PRC with more economic pressure and separation from global trade. China has accused the US of spreading “malicious disinformation” about its role in the conflict, adding that its “top priority now is to ease the situation, instead of adding fuel to the fire.”
A senior White House official told reporters: “I’m just going to reiterate that we do have deep concerns about China’s alignment with Russia at this time, and the national security advisor was direct about those concerns and the potential implications and consequences of certain actions.”
“The national security advisor and our delegation raised directly and very clearly our concerns about the PRC’s support to Russia in the wake of the invasion, and the implications that any such support would have for the PRC’s relationship not only with us but for its relationships around the world, including our allies in Europe and the Indo-Pacific,” declared State Department spokesman Ned Price to reporters. Among the significant US concerns is that Beijing will use Russia’s war on Ukraine to further its military and economic competition with the United States.
“The US side has repeatedly disseminated disinformation about China on the Ukraine issues, and they are very ill-intentioned,” said Zhao Lijian, spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, according to the South China Morning Post. Though his comments clearly reflect irritation at the notion the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would entertain assisting Russia in killing Ukrainians, Zhao did not deny Vladimir Putin asked for military help. However, it’s not just military assistance from China to Russia that rankles the Biden White House. Aiding the Kremlin to get around the economic sanctions designed to take a toll on the Russian economy was central to the Sullivan-Yang talks. And clearly Sullivan made those sanctions a pivotal issue.
Also on the list of topics that should concern the Biden national security team is China “amplifying Russian disinformation in the Ukraine war,” the Associated Press explained. China has been front and center in echoing Moscow’s propaganda, particularly the victimhood Putin so publicly wears. Though there is a willingness by the CCP to push Putin’s narrative about Russia protecting Ukrainians from the Kyiv government, Beijing must be careful. China’s global trade interests are not easily divorced from those of the European Union (EU). In 2021, China was the “second-largest partner for EU exports of goods ($245.3B) and the largest partner for EU imports of goods ($519.4B),” according to China-EU international trade in goods statistics.
Liberty Nation made the point in its report “Who’s Watching China” that “by supporting Russia during the period of US and European sanction, effectively diminishing the impact, [Chinese leader] Xi [Jinping] runs the risk of antagonizing his western Europe market.” But, never appearing cowed by circumstances, the PRC’s foreign minister Wang Yi told reporters at a news conference March 10, “No matter how perilous the international landscape, we will maintain our strategic focus and promote the development of a comprehensive China-Russia partnership in the new era … The friendship between the two peoples is ironclad.”
Engaging Russia and China in a two-front conflict – with the former in an armed clash and the latter in a battle of threats and counterthreats – is possible. Making the US position crystal clear to the Xi government, including the consequences that would attend the PRC’s interference in the Ukraine war, was timely and crucial. But will the Xi regime take the Biden administration seriously?
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
~ Read more from Dave Patterson.