National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan went toe to toe with his Chinese counterpart warning him of significant consequences if Beijing assists Russia in the war against Ukraine. But the Biden administration has said they will not make public exactly what the consequences will be. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, maintained that they will talk directly with China through private diplomatic channels and not with the media.
The world seems to be watching to see how allies of the West will react if China decides to assist the Kremlin in the midst of sanctions imposed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, and Japan. The global market is already vulnerable due to the chaos in the Russian economy.
In the middle of February, when the White House gave vague warnings while Russia was sending troops to the Ukraine border, the market began to slide and both Moscow and Wall Street were caught teetering.
Now, Moscow is asking Beijing for both military and economic help, even though both governments are in denial. It would seem that China would not want to get in the middle of the battle between Russia and basically the rest of the world.
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said, “China is not a party to the crisis, nor does it want the sanctions to affect China.” But he did also note, “China has the right to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests.”
Anton Siluanov, the Russian finance minister, said just this past week that his country’s economic partnership with China will allow for continued cooperation. He described an “increase” in that cooperation since the western markets have been closed to Russia.
The question is whether the “increased cooperation” will significantly defy the sanctions against Russia. The United States would almost have to respond. Overt violations of the sanctions would include assisting Russia in getting around export controls on high-tech equipment from the United States. China could buy these supplies from America and then sell them to Russia. The sanctions were written to describe consequences not only for American companies but to any company in the world that uses U.S. software or components.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has talked about the consequences a company in China would receive if they sold chips to Russia. She said, “We could essentially shut [the company] down, because we prevent them from using our equipment and our software.”
Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said that the large institutions in China would not be willing to take the risk of going around the American sanctions. He told the “Washington Post” that China would likely “complain but comply.”
China could still throw a lifeline to Russia by buying Russian oil and gas. It would be interesting to see the reaction of the United States if this is how there might be “increased cooperation.”
Robert Daly, the director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the U.S., said that the Chinese people do not want to be in the “international club” that included Russia, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran.
China has not yet condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine or even called it an invasion. And they continue to describe their relationship with Russia as “rock solid.” They have gone so far as to blame the United States for the Ukrainian crisis and called on Western countries to respect Russia’s “legitimate security concerns.”
Most of the experts believe that China will not break with their longtime ally, but they will be diligent in observing the U.S. and E.U. sanctions. They will do everything they can, within those boundaries, to help Moscow.