Speed Reads

China's Conundrum

U.S. warns noncommittal China against aiding Russia during 'intense' and 'candid' Rome meeting

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with his Chinese counterpart in Rome for seven hours on Sunday, in a meeting U.S. officials described as "intense" and "candid." The meeting was planned weeks ago as a follow-up to last November's virtual summit between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, but Russia's invasion of Ukraine dominated the statements from Chinese and U.S. officials after Monday's meeting. 

Sullivan "directly and very clearly" told China's Yang Jiechi that the U.S. has deep concerns about China's "support to Russia in the wake of the invasion, and the implications that any such support would have for" China's relationship with the U.S. and its "allies and partners in Europe and the Indo-Pacific," State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday. Biden administration officials did not reveal any specific warnings Sullivan issued to Yang.

The U.S. said Sunday that China has conveyed willingness to help Russia economically and militarily after Moscow asked for drones, pre-packaged food kits for troops, and other assistance in its Ukraine war, CNN reports. Russia and China have denied this, and Chinese government spokesman Zhao Lijian said Monday that the reported Russian aid requests were more "false information" the U.S. is spreading "against China on the Ukraine issue, with sinister intentions."

Chinese officials said after the Sullivan meeting that Yang had "pointed out that the situation today in Ukraine has reached a stage that the Chinese side does not want to see," that "all parties should exercise maximum restraint, protect civilians, and prevent a large-scale humanitarian crisis," and that "China has always advocated respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries." China still did not criticize Russia for its invasion.

Xi is said to be unhappy about Russia's bloody invasion and China's failure to predict it, "but a consensus is forming in Chinese policy circles that one country stands to emerge victorious from the turmoil: China," The New York Times reports. "After a confused initial response to Russia's invasion, China has laid the building blocks of a strategy to shield itself from the worst economic and diplomatic consequences it could face, and to benefit from geopolitical shifts once the smoke clears." Not everyone is convinced Xi can strike that balance.