US, China officials meet amid rising tensions over Ukraine conflict

People rest in a temporary shelter for Ukrainian refugees in a school in Przemysl, Poland, on March 14, 2022. PHOTO: AFP
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan (left) met with top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Rome, Italy, on March 14, 2022. PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS
Ukrainian soldiers preparing trenches and defensive positions in Kyiv on March 13, 2022. PHOTO: NYTIMES
A Polish Red Cross tent that has been set up in front of the railway station in Lviv, Ukraine, on March 12, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON - US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi met in Rome on Monday (March 14), amid rising tensions between the superpowers over the extent to which China will side with Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported that the meeting was underway without giving details.

The meeting took place as Beijing denied reports that Moscow had requested military and economic assistance from China, and as the United States warned that China would face economic consequences and international isolation if it supported the former Soviet state. 

The request for aid, which was first reported by the Financial Times (FT) and The Washington Post, was also denied by Russia.

The US told allies that China responded positively to Russia's request for military equipment, the FT reported on Monday, citing officials familiar with American diplomatic cables on the exchange.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian did not directly acknowledge the reports, but said that “the US has been spreading false information against China on the Ukraine issue with sinister intentions”.

China has abstained from condemning Russia over its war with Ukraine, which Beijing does not call an invasion, and has instead said that the Kremlin’s “legitimate security concerns” should be taken seriously. 

Mr Zhao said at a regular press briefing on Monday: “China’s position on the Ukraine issue has been consistent and clear, and we have been playing a constructive role in persuading and promoting talks.” 

He called on all parties to maintain restraint, and to promote a diplomatic solution instead of further escalating the situation.

Mr Sullivan had on Sunday warned of serious consequences for Beijing if it helped Moscow evade sanctions. 

“We are communicating directly, privately to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions evasion efforts or support to Russia to back fill them,” Mr Sullivan said on CNN on Sunday.

“We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country, anywhere in the world,” he added.

Chinese companies that continue to export to Russia in defiance of sanctions may be put on a trade list that will block them from using American equipment and software, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told the New York Times last week.

The superpowers have also sparred over Russian misinformation, with the US accusing China of spreading Russia’s narrative of American-funded biological and chemical weapons labs in Ukraine. 

Washington warns that it could be a pretext for Russian forces to attack Ukraine with biological and chemical weapons of its own.

Russia called a United Nations Security Council meeting on Friday accusing the US of supporting military biological research in Ukraine, which the US and Ukraine have both denied.

On Monday, the Chinese foreign ministry’s Mr Zhao repeated the claim that there were 10 biological laboratories in Ukraine operating under the Pentagon’s orders. 

But Mr Zhao made no mention of Ukraine in his comments on the talks between Mr Yang and Mr Sullivan, instead describing their meeting’s key issue as the implementation of “the important consensus reached by the Chinese and US heads of state in their virtual summit in November last year”.

National Security Council spokesman Emily Horne said that “the impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine on regional and global security” would be a topic of discussion, along with ongoing efforts to manage US-China competition.

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