US and China aides meet as tensions rise over Russia

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. and China are sending top aides to meet in Rome Monday amid rising tensions between the two countries over the Russia-Ukraine war and as a U.S. official reports that Russia is supporting China in has asked for military equipment in recent days to help push his campaign.

Ahead of the talks, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan bluntly warned China against helping Russia avoid the punishment of global sanctions that have hit the Russian economy. “We will not allow that,” he said.

US officials also accuse China of spreading Russian disinformation, which could be a smokescreen for chemical or biological weapons attacks launched by Vladimir Putin’s forces in Ukraine.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put China in an awkward position with two of its biggest trading partners, the US and the European Union. China needs access to these markets, but it has also made gestures of support for Moscow by joining Russia in declaring a friendship without borders.

Indeed, in his talks with China’s senior foreign policy adviser, Yang Jiechi, Sullivan will seek limits to what Beijing will do for Moscow.

“I’m not going to sit here in public brandishing threats,” he told CNN in a series of newscast interviews Sunday. “But what I will tell you is that we are telling Beijing directly and privately that there will be absolutely consequences” if China helps Russia “replenish” its losses from sanctions.

“We will not allow this to progress and allow Russia to receive a lifeline from these economic sanctions from any country anywhere in the world,” he said.

A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said that in recent days Russia has asked China for assistance, including military equipment, to further its ongoing war with Ukraine. The official did not provide details on the scope of the request. The application was first reported by the Financial Times and the Washington Post.

The White House said the talks would focus on the direct impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine on regional and global security.

Biden administration officials say Beijing is spreading false Russian claims that Ukraine is running chemical and biological weapons laboratories with US support. They say that China is effectively providing cover should Russia advance a biological or chemical weapons attack on the Ukrainians.

When Russia starts accusing other countries of preparing biological or chemical attacks, Sullivan told NBC’s Meet the Press, “it’s a good indication that they’re about to do it themselves.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on ABC’s This Week, “We have not seen anything at this time to indicate an impending chemical or biological attack, but we are monitoring it very, very closely.”

The glaring US allegations of Russian disinformation and Chinese complicity came after Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed without evidence that the US was funding Ukrainian chemical and biological weapons laboratories.

The Russian claim was echoed by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who claimed there are 26 biolabs and related facilities “over which the US Department of Defense has absolute control.” The United Nations has said it has received no information to support such allegations.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the claims “absurd”.

“Now that Russia has made these false claims and China appears to have backed this propaganda, we should all be on the lookout for Russia potentially using chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine or launching a false flag operation,” Psaki tweeted last week. “It’s a clear pattern.”

Concerns are growing in the White House that China is allying itself with Russia in the Ukraine war in hopes of advancing Beijing’s “vision of world order” in the long run, according to a person familiar with administrative thinkers. The person was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Sullivan told CBS’ Face the Nation that Russian rhetoric about chemical and biological warfare “is an indicator that the Russians are preparing for this and trying to blame it elsewhere, and nobody should fall for that.”

The international community has suspected for years that Russia has used chemical weapons in assassination attempts against Putin detractors such as Alexei Navalny and former spy Sergei Skripal. Russia also backs the Assad government in Syria, which has used chemical weapons against its people in a decades-long civil war.

Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, CIA Director William Burns also expressed grave concern that Russia could lay the groundwork for a chemical or biological attack of its own, which it would then launch in a false flag operation against the United States or Ukraine would push.

“It’s something that, as you all know very well, is an integral part of the Russian playbook,” he said. “They used these weapons against their own citizens, they at least encouraged their use in Syria and elsewhere, so we take that very seriously.”

China is one of the few countries that avoids criticizing the Russians for invading Ukraine. China’s Xi Jinping hosted Putin at the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics, just weeks before Russia launched the February 24 invasion.

During Putin’s visit to China last month, the two leaders issued a 5,000-word statement declaring boundless friendship.

The Chinese abstained in UN votes censuring Russia and have criticized economic sanctions against Moscow. She has expressed her support for peace talks and offered her services as a mediator, despite doubts about her neutrality and little experience in mediating international conflicts.

However, the question remains how far Beijing will go to alienate the alliance and endanger its own economy. Sullivan said China and all countries are aware that they “cannot basically bail out Russia… give Russia a workaround for the sanctions” without penalty.

Chinese officials have said Washington should not be able to complain about Russia’s actions because the US invaded Iraq under false pretenses. The US claimed to have evidence that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, although nothing was ever found.

Speaking to CNN, Sullivan said the government believed China knew Putin was “planning something” before invading Ukraine. But he said the Chinese government “may not have understood the full extent because it is very possible that Putin lied to them as well as to Europeans and others.”

Sullivan and Yang last met face-to-face in Switzerland, where Sullivan expressed the Biden administration’s concerns about China’s military provocations against Taiwan, human rights abuses against ethnic minorities and efforts to crack down on pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong.

This meeting paved the way for a three-hour virtual meeting between Biden and Xi in November.

Sullivan will also be in Rome meeting Luigi Mattiolo, diplomatic adviser to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

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Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.

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