US and China in first high-level talks since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Members of the Chinese delegation leave the Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria hotel after talks over the Russian invasion of Ukraine between US national security adviser Jack Sullivan and Chinese Communist Party foreign policy officer Yang Jiechi on 14 March 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Riccardo Antimiani)

US and Chinese officials conducted a 'substantial discussion' of the Russian war against Ukraine in their first high-level, in-person talks since the invasion, but the White House announced no specific outcomes or agreements.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan “raised a range of issues in US-China relations”, including the war, in a roughly six-hour meeting in Rome with China’s top diplomat, Communist Party Politburo member Yang Jiechi, the White House said in a statement afterwards.

“They also underscored the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and China,” the statement added.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Monday that US officials raised concerns with their Chinese counterparts during the meeting. The two sides also discussed North Korea and Taiwan, a senior administration official told reporters in a briefing on condition of anonymity.

Ahead of the meeting, US officials said Russia had asked China for military assistance shortly after touching off the war – a sign that President Joe Biden’s administration is increasingly concerned about the role Russia’s most powerful diplomatic partner could play in the conflict. The official declined to comment on Russia’s alleged request for Chinese aid and described the meeting as intense.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Monday rejected the reports of the Russian request as “disinformation” and “malicious”. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that Russia has all the resources it needs to complete its mission as planned.

The Biden administration has sought to persuade Beijing to use its influence in Moscow to help end a conflict that has now entered its third week. The president’s top advisers have put pressure on China to enforce sanctions on Russia’s economy imposed by the US and its European and Asian allies.

The senior administration official acknowledged that the administration has deep concerns about Russia’s alignment with China.

Just weeks before the invasion, Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping declared in a lengthy joint statement that the two nations’ friendship had “no limits”.

The talks between Sullivan and Yang began in the late morning at the luxury Rome Cavalieri hotel, according to people familiar with the meeting. They asked not to be identified discussing a confidential issue. The hotel, which overlooks the city, was closed off to the media.

Sullivan and Yang last met in Switzerland in October.

One US official said that Russia’s request for China’s assistance with its invasion was not new, and came shortly after the February 24 attack. A second official would not specify what kind of military equipment Moscow had requested and declined to say how the administration knew the information. Both officials asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

White House spokespeople declined to comment.

While the Biden administration has been careful not to call out China directly for what officials believe was its tacit support of the Ukraine invasion, the White House continues to stress that history will judge China’s actions relating to the war.

“We believe that China, in fact, was aware before the invasion took place that Vladimir Putin was planning something,” Sullivan said on CNN on Sunday. “They may not have understood the full extent of it because it’s very possible Putin lied to them the way he lied to Europeans and others.”

(With assistance from Peter Martin.)


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