WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is looking for close allies over possible new sanctions on China if Beijing provides military support to Russia in its war in Ukraine, four U.S. officials and other sources said.
The consultations, which are still at an initial stage, aim to garner support from a range of countries, particularly those in the G7, to coordinate support for any possible restrictions.
It was not clear what specific sanctions Washington would propose. The talks have not been previously disclosed.
The US Treasury Department, the main agency involved in imposing sanctions, declined to comment.
Washington and its allies have said in recent weeks that China is considering providing weapons to Russia, which Beijing denies. US President Joe Biden’s aides have not presented public evidence.
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They also directly warned China against doing so, including in meetings between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping as well as during a February 18 personal meeting between US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi on the sidelines of a meeting. World Security Conference in Munich.
Initial steps by the Biden administration to counter Chinese support for Russia, sources familiar with the matter, included informal outreach at the level of staff and diplomats, including at the Treasury Department.
They said the officials were laying the groundwork for possible action against Beijing with the core group of countries that were most supportive of sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine a year ago.
Asked about the consultations, the White House National Security Council spokesman said that the Russian war has made it difficult for China to deal with Europe and others.
“It is a distraction to China and a potential blow to their international relations that they do not need and should not,” the spokeswoman said.
An official from a country Washington consulted said they had seen little intelligence to support claims about China considering possible military assistance to Russia. However, a US official said they provided detailed accounts of the intelligence to allies.
China’s role in the Russia-Ukraine war is expected to be among the topics when Biden meets German Chancellor Olaf Schultz at the White House on Friday. And before that in New Delhi on Wednesday and Thursday, the foreign ministers of dozens of countries, including Russia, China and the United States, will discuss the war.
Last week, China issued a 12-point paper calling for a comprehensive ceasefire that was met with skepticism in the West.
The sources said initial communication from Washington about sanctions had not yet led to broad agreement on any specific measures.
One source said the administration first wanted to bring up the idea of coordinated sanctions and “take impulses” should any shipments to Russia from China, which had declared a “borderless” partnership shortly before the February 24 invasion of last year, be discovered. .
“On the G7 front, I think there is a real awareness,” a second source said, but added that the detailed China-focused measures had yet to be put in place.
Can China’s conflict tilt?
The Ukrainian conflict settled into grinding trench warfare. With Russia running low on munitions, Ukraine and its supporters fear that supplies from China could tilt the conflict in Russia’s favour.
As part of a related diplomatic campaign, Washington won language in a G7 statement on February 24 to mark the one-year anniversary of the war that called on “third countries” to “cease material support for the Russian war, or face exorbitant costs.”
Although the statement did not mention China by name, the United States imposed new sanctions on people and companies accused of helping Russia evade sanctions. The measures included restrictions on exports from companies in China and elsewhere, which would prevent them from buying goods, such as semiconductors.
“We’ve tried to indicate very clearly, both privately in Munich and then publicly, our concerns,” Daniel Kreitenbrink, the top US diplomat for East Asian affairs, told Congress this week. “We’ve talked about the implications and consequences if they were to do this. We also know that many of our like-minded partners share these concerns.”
Among the challenges the United States faces in imposing sanctions on China, the world’s second-largest economy, is its sweeping integration into major economies in Europe and Asia, complicating the talks. US allies, from Germany to South Korea, are reticent about alienating China.
Anthony Ruggiero, a sanctions expert under former President Donald Trump, said the Biden administration has scope to economically constrain private actors inside China and that doing so could deter the government and banks from providing more support.
“Then the administration can send messages to China in public and private, with the latter being more explicit, that the US will escalate sanctions to include targeting Chinese banks with the full range of options available,” said Ruggiero, who is now with the foundation. Group for the Defense of Democracies.
Washington should make China choose between accessing the US financial system or helping Russia in the war, Ruggiero said, pointing to the approach of sanctions on Iran and North Korea.
(Reporting by Michael Martina and Trevor Honeycutt) Additional reporting by David Brunstrom. Editing by Don Dorphy and Grant McCall
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