The White House insisted that China will face ‘significant consequences’ if it sends military to aid to Russia , after National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday held an ‘intense’ seven-hour meeting with Beijing’s top diplomat.
But Press Secretary Jen Psaki refused to lay out President Joe Biden’s red lines on what would trigger action, or describe what those consequences might be, despite repeated questions during the daily briefing.
‘I think what we have conveyed and what was conveyed by our national security adviser in this meeting, is that should they provide military or other assistance that of course violates sanctions or, or supports the war efforts, that there will be significant consequences,’ she said.
‘But in terms of what the specifics look like, we would coordinate with our partners and allies to make that determination.’
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met Yang Jiechi, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s politburo, at a Rome hotel on Monday morning.
It came after reports at the weekend that Russia had approached China for help in resupplying its armed forces.
But a senior administration official characterized it as a ‘frank exchange’ of views and said the meeting was long planned.
‘What I would say in general is that we do have deep concerns about China’s alignment with Russia at this time,’ said the official, ‘and the national security adviser was direct about those concerns and the potential implications and consequences of certain actions.’
The official said it had not been set up to discuss concerns that Russia had asked China for military help.
Either way it put Beijing at the center of the latest diplomatic push.
Last week senior U.S. intelligence officials said they believed Chinese leaders may be worried that Moscow’s invasion, and President Vladimir Putin’s increasingly brutal tactics, will reflect badly on them if they offer diplomatic cover.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Monday said China will face ‘significant consequences’ if it sends military to aid to Russia but declined to set red lines or describe what sort of action would be taken
President Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan (l) was meeting with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi (r) at a Rome hotel on Monday morning as part of a diplomatic push to ensure Beijing does not prop up Moscow
The Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria hotel in Rome Sullivan was meeting Jiech to discuss the war in Ukraine
A Ukrainian soldier helps fire crews search the ruins of a Kyiv apartment building for survivors and victims after Russia resumed its bombing campaign early Monday
A child looks on as she stands in front of a destroyed apartment building following shelling in Kyiv on March 14
Two people were killed on Monday during a Russian missile attack on a Kyiv apartment block. One person died when a rocket struck the residential complex while a second was killed by debris from a second missile being intercepted
Against that background, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on Monday morning reported that Yang Jiechi had met Sullivan in Rome, but offered no further details.
American officials and allies have repeatedly said that China risks facing secondary sanctions if it sides with Russia.
And on Sunday, they claimed that Putin had asked his ally for military help for his faltering invasion.
But that triggered accusations of disinformation by Chinese officials.
Zhao Lijian, spokesman for Beijing’s foreign ministry, said that America was ‘targeting China on the Ukraine issue with malicious intentions.’
A day earlier, Sullivan warned Beijing of ‘consequences’ if it tried to bail out Putin by, for example, providing ways to skirt international economic sanctions.
‘We will ensure that neither China, nor anyone else, can compensate Russia for these losses,’ Sullivan told NBC ahead of the meeting.
‘In terms of the specific means of doing that, I’m not going to lay all of that out in public, but we will communicate that privately to China, as we have already done and will continue to do.’
And he told CNN that Washington was watching closely to see how far China provided economic or material support.
‘We are communicating directly, privately to Beijing, that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions evasion efforts or support to Russia to backfill them,’ he said.
‘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.’
Russia on Monday denied it needed China’s help.
‘No, Russia has its own potential to continue the operation, which, as we have said, is unfolding in accordance with the plan and will be completed on time and in full,’ said Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman.
It all puts China at the heart of diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in its third week.
American officials believe Putin expected to take the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in a two-day lightning offensive.
Instead, almost three weeks later, his forces are still battling Ukrainian forces who have used hit-and-run attacks – and an influx of foreign weapons, including anti-tank grenades – to lethal effect.
Rescuers work next to a residential building damaged by shelling by Russian forces in the early hours of Monday
A view of damaged area after fragments from a Tochka missile which was allegedly launched by Ukrainian forces has fallen in Donetsk region, killing 20 civilians, injured 9 others, on March 14
A view of damaged buildings and streets due to the ongoing Russian shelling and missile strikes in Kharkiv on March 13
A Ukrainian firefighter drags a hose inside a large food products storage facility which was destroyed by an airstrike in the early morning hours on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, March 13
American officials, speaking anonymously, say the Kremlin has reached out to Beijing for help replenishing its military supplies – though they did not say exactly what Putin had requested or when the request was made. Western nations have been supplying Ukraine with a steady stream of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.
‘China is deeply concerned and grieved on the Ukraine situation,’ Liu Pengyu, the Chinese embassy spokesperson in Washington, said, adding that he was not aware of any suggestions China might be willing to help Russia.
‘We sincerely hope that the situation will ease and peace will return at an early date.’
Intelligence officials have hinted there may be a chance to harness Chinese influence over Moscow, perhaps by advocating for a ceasefire.
China abstained from a United Nations General Assembly vote to condemn Russia’s invasion – rather than voting against it – and officials have used the term ‘war’ to describe what Moscow insists is a ‘special military operation.
And last week C.I.A. Director Bill Burns said Chinese leader Xi Jinping may be worried about the way the war was unfolding and that its ugly nature risked guilt by association.
‘President Xi is probably a little bit unsettled as he watches the way in which President Putin has driven Americans and Europeans more closely together and strengthen the Transatlantic alliance in ways that would have been a little bit hard to imagine before the invasion began,’ he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has said he is willing to meet Putin in person for talks, said last week that he was willing to ‘discuss and find a compromise’ with Russia over the future of Donbas – a region of eastern Ukraine comprised of Donetsk and Luhansk where many ethnic Russians live.
Russian and Ukrainian representatives held talks by video link on Monday. Ukraine’s negotiator said he wanted to secure a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and security guarantees for Ukraine.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said the talks would resume on Tuesday after what he described as a ‘technical pause.’
They were the first talks to be held for a week.
Ukrainian authorities earlier said two people died and seven were injured after Russian forces struck an airplane factory in Kyiv, sparking a fire. The Antonov factory is Ukraine’s largest aircraft manufacturing plant and is best known for producing many of the world’s biggest cargo planes.
Russian artillery fire also hit a nine-story apartment building in the northern Obolonskyi district of the city, killing two more people, authorities said.
Firefighters worked to rescue survivors, painstakingly carrying an injured woman on a stretcher away from the blackened and still smoking building.