- By Samuel Horti in London and James Landale in Munich
- BBC News
February 19, 2023
Updated 3 hours ago
Image source, Getty Images
China is considering giving Russia arms and ammunition for the war in Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
Mr Blinken told CBS News that Chinese companies were already providing “non-lethal support” to Russia – and new information suggested Beijing could provide “lethal support”.
This escalation would mean “serious consequences” for China, he warned.
China has denied reports that Moscow has requested military equipment.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has yet to condemn the invasion of Russia – but he has tried to remain neutral in the conflict and called for peace.
China’s foreign ministry said it would not accept US “pointing” and “coercion” over its relations with Russia.
Mr Blinken spoke to CBS after meeting China’s top diplomat Wang Yi at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.
He said he expressed “deep concern” during the meeting about the “possibility that China will provide lethal material support to Russia.”
“So far we have seen Chinese companies … providing non-lethal support to Russia for operations in Ukraine. The concern we have now is based on information we have that they are considering lethal support,” he said.
He did not elaborate on what information the US had received about China’s possible plans. Pressing what the US believed China could give Russia, he said it would primarily be arms and ammunition.
Mr. Blinken told CBS that “of course, in China, there really isn’t any distinction made between private companies and the state.”
If China were to supply arms to Russia, it would cause a “serious problem for us and in our relations,” he added.
Relations between Washington and Beijing were already sour after the US shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon in early February. Both sides exchanged angry words, but equally, both sides seemed embarrassed by the incident and appeared ready to move on.
But if China supplied weapons to help Russian forces in Ukraine, then US-China relations would deteriorate much more.
It would be the “most disastrous” thing that could happen to the relationship between the two giants, senior Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said.
“It would be like buying a ticket on the Titanic after seeing the movie,” he told ABC News. “Do not do that.”
Mr Blinken’s warning appears clearly designed to discourage China.
Mr Blinken also said the US is concerned that China could help Russia circumvent Western sanctions aimed at crippling Russia’s economy. China’s trade with Russia is growing and is one of the largest markets for Russian oil, gas and coal.
NATO members, including the US, are sending a variety of weapons, ammunition and equipment to Ukraine, including tanks. They have stopped sending fighter jets and Mr Blinken would not invoke whether the US would help other countries supply jets.
“We have made it very clear that we should not fixate or focus on any particular weapon system,” he said.
However, he said the West must ensure that Ukraine has what it needs for a possible counter-offensive against Russia “in the coming months”. Russia is currently attempting to advance into Ukraine’s eastern regions, where some of the fiercest fighting of the war has taken place.
The comments by the top US diplomat come ahead of a planned visit by Mr Wang to Moscow as part of the Chinese foreign policy chief’s Europe trip.
Mr Wang said in Munich on Saturday that China has “neither stood by nor added fuel to the fire” over the Ukraine war, Portal reported.
Image source, Getty Images
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi gave a speech in Munich on Saturday
China will release a document outlining its position on settling the conflict, Mr Wang said. The document would state that all countries’ territorial integrity must be respected, he said.
“I suggest that everyone start thinking calmly about what efforts we can make to end this war,” Mr. Wang said.
He added that there are “some forces that don’t seem to want the negotiations to succeed or the war to end soon,” but didn’t say who he was referring to.
Chinese President Xi is scheduled to deliver a “peace speech” on Friday, February 24 to mark the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to Italy’s Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani.
Mr Tajani told Italian radio that Mr Xi’s speech would call for peace without condemning Russia, Portal reported.
Mr Blinken said during the meeting that the US “would not tolerate any violation of our sovereignty” and said “this irresponsible act must never happen again”.
Mr Blinken told CBS other nations were concerned about what he called China’s “surveillance balloon program” across five continents.
Mr Wang, meanwhile, called the episode a “political farce manufactured by the US” and accused it of “using any means to block and suppress China”. China has denied sending a spy balloon.
And on Sunday morning Beijing warned that the US would “suffice all consequences” if it escalated the dispute over the balloon. China will “hang out to the end” if “the US insists on exploiting the matter,” the State Department said in a statement reported by Portal.