White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi met in Rome on Monday in the first high-level meeting between Chinese and US officials since President Joe Biden’s virtual conference with Xi Jinping in November. During the seven-hour session, US officials attempted to discourage Beijing from supplying Moscow with economic and military support amid crippling economic sanctions against Russia.
An unnamed US administration official described the meeting as “intense” and recalled that Sullivan explained to Yang “the potential implications and consequences of certain actions” that would be brought to bear by “the unity of the United States and its allies and partners” against Russia and those supporting Russia.
The Rome meeting was planned before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and also covered other issues of bilateral contention such as North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and Taiwan. It also came in the wake of reports that Russia had requested economic and military support, including drones, from Beijing.
Prior to the meeting, Sullivan made an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” and during an interview, in which it was alleged China coordinated with Russia on the timing of the invasion, stated:
“We have communicated to Beijing that we will not stand by and allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses from the economic sanctions.”
On the subject of hypothetically sanctioning China for supporting Russia, Sullivan stated that while he did wish to “publicly brandish threats”, the US has made it clear to Beijing that “there absolutely will be consequences” for efforts to support Russia.
Contrary to these reports, the Chinese government has publicly denied any such request from Russia had taken place, and also denied reports that China asked Russia to delay the invasion until the end of the Winter Olympics. Without directly addressing reports on Russian requests for support, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a press conference that “The US has been spreading disinformation targeting China on the Ukraine issue, with malicious intentions.”
Simultaneously, Zhao and other Chinese officials have embraced Russian allegations that the Pentagon has been coordinating with Ukraine to develop biological and chemical weapons, which the US has denied.
— Lijian Zhao ??? (@zlj517) March 13, 2022
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has contributed to a decline in US-Chinese relations, with both nations doling out accusations against each other. As the world’s largest exporter and top supplier of foreign goods to the US, China’s unclear level of support and partnership with Russia could lead to threats to its economic position. On the other hand, events in Ukraine and the enforcement of sanctions against Russia and Russian allies poses a challenge for US policy and its reputation on the world stage.