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China threatens US with ‘strong and resolute response’ if sanctioned over Ukraine

China's President Xi Jinping, left, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Mikhail Metzel/Tass/Abaca Press/TNS)
March 14, 2022

A Chinese government spokesperson warned last week that China would deliver a “strong and resolute response” if the U.S. sanctions China for its stance on the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In a Thursday press conference, the Chinese state-run television station CCTV asked Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lijian Zhao to respond to U.S. criticisms that it had not taken a strong enough response in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Chinese official responded by saying, “Those who accused China of standing on the sidelines on the Ukraine issue should ask themselves these questions: What roles have they played in this crisis?”

“On the Ukraine issue, China has been independently making decisions in the spirit of objectivity and fairness and based on the merits of the matter itself. China has been playing a constructive part in facilitating dialogue for peace,” Zhao added. “On the second day of the conflict, President Xi Jinping spoke to President Vladimir Putin on the phone upon invitation and expressed China’s desire to see Russia and Ukraine hold peace talks as early as possible.”

Zhao concluded his remarks on the matter by saying, “When dealing with its relations with Russia, the US should not impose so-called sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction on Chinese companies and individuals or undermine the legitimate rights and interests of China, otherwise China will make strong and resolute response.”

China has not yet provided direct military or financial support to Russia since the start of its Ukraine invasion, and the U.S. has not yet imposed any new sanctions on China in relation to the matter.

In an interview with CNN on Sunday — three days after Zhao’s comment — U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the U.S. has already warned China against helping Russia evade new sanctions from the international community after it launched its Ukraine invasion.

“We are communicating directly, privately to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions evasion efforts or support to Russia to backfill them,” Sullivan said.

The Russian government has reportedly asked China to provide military equipment and economic support for its ongoing invasion of Russia. U.S. officials recently told the New York TimesFinancial Times and the Washington Post that they are aware of Russian requests for Chinese aid.

All three outlets reported that the U.S. officials declined to specify what types of military equipment Russia is requesting, with one citing the need to protect their methods of information collection. One source familiar with the alleged Russian requests for support told Financial Times said there are some indications China is preparing to provide the requested assistance. The official said the U.S. is, in turn, preparing to warn its allies if China does extend support to Russia.

Russia’s alleged requests for additional military equipment come as the Ukrainian side has claimed to have damaged or destroyed 58 Russian planes, 83 helicopters, 362 tanks, 1,205 armored vehicles of various types, 135 artillery pieces, 62 multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS), 33 anti-aircraft systems, 60 fuel tankers, seven unmanned aerial vehicles and three warships since the Russian invasion began.

In February, a Chinese media outlet appeared to accidentally leak instructions that advised the press to avoid sharing posts that are unfavorable to Russia or favorable to Western assessments of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

The Washington Post has assessed that China is likely wary of fully supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as China often cites issues of sovereignty in response to criticisms of its actions in its territories, such as Hong Kong and Xinjiang. The Washington Post said China likely wants to foster its ties with Russia, but avoid further deteriorating already strained relations with the west.

Ming Jinwei, a commentator and senior editor for Xinhua — the official Chinese state press agency — said in a WeChat blog post last month, “Simply put, China has to back Russia up with emotional and moral support while refraining from treading on the toes of the United States and European Union.”