WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and China are sending top aides to Rome on Monday as tensions between the two countries mount over the Russia-Ukraine war and concerns grow that the conflict will will take even darker turns.
Ahead of the talks, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan bluntly warned China to avoid helping Russia evade global sanctions that have hit the Russian economy. “We will not allow this to continue,” he said.
US officials also accuse China of spreading Russian disinformation that could be used as a pretext for chemical or biological weapon attacks by Vladimir Putin’s forces in Ukraine.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has placed China in a delicate situation with two of its main trading partners: the United States and the European Union. China needs access to these markets, but it has also made gestures of support for Moscow, joining Russia in declaring a “boundless” friendship.
In his talks with senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi, Sullivan will indeed be looking for limits to what Beijing will do for Moscow.
“I’m not going to sit here publicly and make threats,” he told CNN in a series of interviews that aired on Sunday. “But what I will tell you is that we are communicating directly and privately to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences” if China helps Russia “compensate” for its sanctions losses.
“We will not allow this to continue and for there to be a lifeline for Russia from these economic sanctions from any country in the world,” he said.
The White House said the talks will focus on the direct impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine on regional and global security.
Biden administration officials say Beijing is spreading false Russian claims that Ukraine ran chemical and biological weapons labs with US backing. They say China actually provides cover if Russia pursues a biological or chemical weapons attack on the Ukrainians.
When Russia begins to accuse other countries of preparing to launch biological or chemical attacks, Sullivan told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “it’s a good indication that they might be on the verge of to do it themselves”.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on ABC’s “This Week” said “we haven’t seen anything to indicate any kind of imminent chemical or biological attack at this time, but we’re monitoring this very, very closely. “.
The stark US accusations of Russian disinformation and Chinese complicity came after Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova alleged without any evidence that the US was funding Ukrainian weapons labs chemical and biological.
The Russian claim was echoed by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who claimed there were 26 bio-laboratories and related facilities in which “the US Department of Defense has absolute control “. The UN said it had not received any information supporting such accusations.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the claims “absurd”.
“Now that Russia has made these false claims and China has apparently endorsed this propaganda, we should all be on the lookout for Russia possibly using chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or creating a false flag operation in them. using,” PSAki tweeted. Last week. “It’s a clear pattern.”
Sullivan told “Face the Nation” on CBS that Russian rhetoric on chemical and biological warfare is “an indicator that in fact the Russians are preparing to do this and trying to lay the blame elsewhere and no one should fall for it.” the trap”.
The international community has believed for years that Russia has used chemical weapons to carry out assassination attempts against Putin critics such as Alexei Navalny and former spy Sergei Skripal. Russia also supports the Assad government in Syria, which has used chemical weapons against its people during a decade of civil war.
Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, CIA Director William Burns also expressed serious concern that Russia could lay the groundwork for a chemical or biological attack, which it would then blame on the United States or Ukraine in a false flag operation.
“It’s something, as you all know very well, that’s part and parcel of Russia’s playbook,” he said. “They used these weapons against their own citizens, they at least encouraged their use in Syria and elsewhere, so this is something we take very seriously.”
China was one of the few countries to avoid criticizing the Russians for its invasion of Ukraine. China’s Xi Jinping hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin for the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, just weeks before Russia launched the February 24 invasion.
During Putin’s visit to China last month, the two leaders released a 5,000-word statement declaring friendship without limits.
The Chinese abstained in UN votes censuring Russia and criticized economic sanctions against Moscow. He expressed his support for the peace talks and offered his services as a mediator, despite questions about his neutrality and little experience in mediating international conflicts.
But questions remain about how far Beijing will go to alienate the alliance and put its own economy at risk. Sullivan said China and all countries are being warned that they cannot “fundamentally bail out Russia…give Russia a sanctions-bust” with impunity.
Chinese officials have said Washington should not be able to complain about Russia’s actions because the United States invaded Iraq under false pretenses. The United States claimed to have evidence that Saddam Hussein stockpiled weapons of mass destruction, although none was ever found.
On CNN, Sullivan said the administration believed China knew Putin was “planning something” before the invasion of Ukraine. But he said the Chinese government “may not have understood the full extent of it because it’s very possible that Putin lied to them the same way he lied to the Europeans and others”.
Sullivan and Yang last met for face-to-face talks in Switzerland, where Sullivan raised Biden administration concerns about China’s military provocations against Taiwan, human rights abuses against ethnic minorities and efforts to stifle democracy advocates in Hong Kong.
This meeting set the stage for a three-hour virtual meeting in November between Biden and Xi.
Sullivan is also due to meet Luigi Mattiolo, diplomatic adviser to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, while in Rome.
Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.