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China Signals Disinterest in Providing Weapons to Russia for Brutal Ukraine Campaign

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 3/14/2022 Paul D. Shinkman
People stand by TV screens broadcasting the news of Russian troops that have launched their attack on Ukraine, in Hong Kong Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. As Russia intensifies its assault on Ukraine, it is getting a helping hand from China in spreading inflammatory and unsubstantiated claims that the U.S. is financing biological weapons labs in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File) © (Vincent Yu/AP-File) People stand by TV screens broadcasting the news of Russian troops that have launched their attack on Ukraine, in Hong Kong Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. As Russia intensifies its assault on Ukraine, it is getting a helping hand from China in spreading inflammatory and unsubstantiated claims that the U.S. is financing biological weapons labs in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)

China on Monday signaled it is not interested in providing weapons to Russia to use in Ukraine as President Vladimir Putin’s brutal military campaign there threatens to stalemate.

U.S. officials told several news outlets on the condition of anonymity over the weekend that Russia had made the appeal to its Asian ally – an apparent attempt to capitalize on increasingly friendly relations between the two powers each has touted in recent months. The White House and other government agencies have declined to comment publicly on the reports or offer more specifics about the Russian request at a time its troops suffer from entrenched fighting and limited resources in the former Soviet country.

In an opinion piece posted Monday morning criticizing the Biden administration’s move as “too arrogant,” Chinese commentator Hu Xijin nonetheless offered that, “as a major military industrial power, Russia does not need to ask China to provide substantial military assistance for the limited scale war in Ukraine.”

“Moreover, China is not obligated to promise nor to export arms to Russia,” Hu said in a video circulated by the state-sponsored English-language Global Times, for which he was executive editor until December. Though not a direct mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, the news agency is aligned with its views and seen as an outlet for statements Chinese officials cannot make publicly.

Analysts suggest China has little incentive to wade deeper into the burgeoning catastrophe that has surprised many globally by how it has united Russia’s opponents.

“To provide arms now with everyone watching is quite unthinkable,” Sun Yun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center think tank, tells U.S. News.

American officials reportedly told allies that China expressed willingness to provide “military assistance” to Russia, the Financial Times reported on Monday, though it did not specify that such assistance would include weaponry. The report also noted that China had not specified whether it had begun providing assistance, if at all.


Video: China unsettled by Ukraine, but don't underestimate Xi's Taiwan resolve -CIA head (Reuters)

Analysts speaking on the condition of anonymity tell U.S. News that China has previously provided military supplies to Russia for conflicts along its border, such as winter coats and tents, but not weapons. And with Beijing having already provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine, it would have difficulty refusing similar support to Moscow.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., demurred when asked over the weekend about the appeal, saying, “I’ve never heard of that.” Liu Pengyu called the situation in Ukraine “disconcerting” and added, “The high priority now is to prevent the tense situation from escalating or even getting out of control.”

China’s messaging comes ahead of two high-profile summits on Monday, one between officials from Ukraine and Russia to discuss a potential cease-fire – with few expectations for success – and another in Rome with national security adviser Jake Sullivan and one of his Chinese counterparts.

Though China and Russia have touted their increased partnership in recent months at the expense of U.S. influence, American officials believe fissures have emerged particularly following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – the brutality of which the CIA believes caught Beijing by surprise. Little is known about the contents of a high-profile meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Putin before Beijing hosted the Winter Olympics last month, but reports emerged that Xi asked him to hold off on a military invasion until after the games ended.

Xi himself last week called for “restraint” in Ukraine to “prevent a massive humanitarian crisis.”

Beijing’s balk on Monday does not surprise some analysts.

“Historically there have been cases where China helped Russia with military supplies. Given the current scrutiny, anything substantial China provides will be pretty easily spotted,” Sun says. “China is already in an uncomfortable position with Russia and all its support for Russia so far has remained in words, rather than actions.”

Indeed, in his opinion piece, Hu quickly transitioned to agricultural and energy exchanges with Russia as the central components of trade between the two powers.

“China will certainly continue to develop relations with Russia and Russia will continue to export energy, wheat and corn to China. Besides, China will export commodities needed by Russia,” Hu said, further criticizing what he considered the Biden administration’s attempts to undermine the relationship: “Does the U.S. think it is God? China is a major power pursuing an independent foreign policy and China-U.S. relations must be mutually respectful. China will not seek to ease the tensions with the U.S. by damaging China-Russia relations.”

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