China signaled on Monday that it is not interested in supplying weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine, where President Vladimir Putin’s brutal military campaign has reached a stalemate.
On the condition of anonymity, US officials told several news outlets over the weekend that Russia had made the appeal to its Asian ally, an apparent attempt to capitalize on the two powers’ increasingly friendly relations in recent months. The White House and other government agencies have declined to publicly comment on the reports or provide more details about Russia’s request, which comes at a time when its troops are facing entrenched fighting and limited resources in the former Soviet country.
In an opinion piece published Monday morning, Chinese commentator Hu Xijin criticized the Biden administration’s move as “too arrogant,” but added 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 or export arms to Russia,” Hu said in a video distributed by the state-sponsored English-language Global Times, where he served as executive editor until December. Though not a direct mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, the news agency shares its viewpoints and is seen as a conduit for statements that Chinese officials cannot make publicly.
Analysts believe China has little incentive to delve deeper into the escalating disaster, which has surprised many around the world by uniting Russia’s adversaries.
“To provide arms now, with everyone watching, is quite unthinkable,” Sun Yun, director of the Stimson Center’s China Program, tells reporters.
When asked about the appeal over the weekend, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. said, “I’ve never heard of that.” “The high priority now is to prevent the tense situation from escalating or even getting out of control,” Liu Pengyu said of the situation in Ukraine.
China’s message comes ahead of two high-profile summits on Monday: one in Kiev between Ukrainian and Russian officials to discuss a potential cease-fire – with little hope of 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 at the expense of US influence in recent months, American officials believe fissures have emerged, particularly in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the brutality of which the CIA believes caught Beijing off guard. Little is known about the contents of a high-profile meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin before Beijing hosted the Winter Olympics last month, but reports have emerged that Xi asked Putin to postpone a military invasion until after the Olympics.
Last week, Xi himself called for “restraint” in Ukraine in order to “avert a massive humanitarian crisis.”
Some analysts believe Beijing’s refusal on Monday was unsurprising.
“There have been instances in the past where China has assisted Russia with military supplies.” “Given the current level of scrutiny, anything substantial China provides will be fairly obvious,” Sun says. “China is already in an awkward position with Russia, and all of its support for Russia has so far been expressed 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 bilateral trade.
“China will undoubtedly maintain relations with Russia, and Russia will continue to export energy, wheat, and corn to China.” Furthermore, China will export commodities required by Russia,” Hu said, criticizing the Biden administration’s efforts to undermine the relationship: “Does the United States believe it is God?” China is a major power with an independent foreign policy, and relations between the two countries must be mutually respectful. China will not seek to defuse tensions with the United States by undermining China-Russia relations.”