US warns China of dangers of aid to Russia at Rome meeting

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan speaks to news media about the situation in Ukraine during a daily press conference at the White House in Washington, US, Feb. 11, 2022. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

By David Brunnstrom, Andrea Shalal and Michael Martina

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US national security adviser Jake Sullivan plans to meet top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Rome Monday and will highlight the economic sanctions Beijing will face if it helps Russia in its war in Ukraine, US officials say.

Sullivan will warn of the isolation China could face globally if it continues to support Russia, a US official said, without providing details.

In recent weeks, officials from the United States and other countries have tried to make it clear to China that Russia’s side could affect trade flows and the development of new technologies, and that the country could be subject to secondary sanctions.

Chinese companies defying US export restrictions to Russia could be cut off from US equipment and software they need to make their products, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said last week.

It will be Sullivan’s first known meeting with Yang since closed-door sessions in Zurich in October that attempted to calm tensions following a bitter public exchange between the two in Alaska a year ago.

China is the world’s largest exporter, the European Union’s largest trading partner and the United States’ main foreign supplier of goods, and any pressure on China’s trade could have economic consequences for the United States and its allies.

On Sunday, US officials told Reuters that Russia had asked China for military equipment after the invasion, raising concerns among the Biden administration that Beijing could undermine Western efforts to help Ukraine by helping to bolster Moscow’s military.

Sullivan told CNN on Sunday that Washington was closely monitoring the extent to which Beijing provided economic or material support to Russia.

“We communicate directly, privately to Beijing, that there will be absolutely ramifications for large-scale sanctions evasion efforts or aid to Russia to supplement them,” he said.

“We will not allow this to continue and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country anywhere in the world.”

Ties between the two nations, already at their lowest point in decades, took another plunge last month when leaders Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin announced an enhanced “no borders” strategic partnership just weeks before the invasion of Ukraine.

Beijing, a major trading partner of Russia, has refused to call Moscow’s actions an invasion, although Xi last week called for “maximum restraint” and expressed concern about the impact of Western sanctions on the global economy amid mounting signs that them China’s ability to buy Russian oil.

Washington and its allies have imposed sweeping, unprecedented sanctions on Russia and banned energy imports, while Ukraine has provided billions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid.

The Chinese embassy in Washington expressed surprise at reports of Russia’s request for military aid, which first appeared in the Financial Times, and a leading Chinese analyst suggested Beijing could act as an intermediary in Ukraine.

Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu called the current situation in Ukraine “disturbing” and added: “We support and encourage all efforts conducive to a peaceful resolution of the crisis.”

On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian described reports that Russia was seeking military equipment from China as “disinformation” from the US.

During the same daily media briefing in Beijing, Zhao said Ukraine would be “certainly one of the main items on the agenda” of Monday’s meeting between Sullivan and Yang.

Daniel Russel, who served as the top US diplomat for East Asia under President Barack Obama and has close ties to the Biden administration, called the prospect of China serving as a mediator to end the war “far-fetched.”

That remained the case even if “Beijing could have a good game on ceasefires and mediation to isolate itself from guilt,” he added.