HONG KONG (AP) — China responded Monday to US allegations that it may be providing non-lethal military assistance to Russia in its war against Ukraine, telling Washington to stay out of its relationship with the Kremlin.
«The United States is not qualified to give orders to China,» Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular press conference. «We will never accept US criticism, including coercion and pressure on China-Russia relations.»
Wang said China’s position on Ukraine «can simply be expressed as promoting peace talks.»
«China will continue to stand firm on the side of dialogue and peace and play a constructive role in easing the situation,» he said.
The United States believes China may be providing non-lethal military assistance to Russia for use in Ukraine, and may even be considering sending lethal aid, four US officials familiar with the matter told NBC News in an exclusive report on Saturday. They did not provide details of any underlying intelligence that would prompt the prosecution.
Beijing’s response came as President Joe Biden paid a surprise visit to Ukraine on Monday before the first anniversary of the Russian invasion.
Speaking early Monday in Ankara, Turkey, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Biden had told Chinese President Xi Jinping all along that «there would be real consequences in our own relationship if China provided lethal assistance to Russia in this aggression against Ukraine.» or in systematically helping to evade sanctions”.
Blinken declined to specify what those consequences might be.
“But I think China understands what is at risk if it proceeds to provide such material support to Russia,” he said, adding that it could also affect China’s relations with other countries.
Shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine last February, Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a lengthy joint statement declaring the partnership «without limits» between their two countries. China has refrained from condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and urged peace talks, expressed concern over the humanitarian situation and was careful to avoid violating international sanctions.
Blinken said China was «trying to have it both ways.»
«Publicly, they present themselves as a country fighting for peace in Ukraine,» he said in an interview on NBC News’ «Meet the Press.» «But privately, as I said, we’ve already seen in recent months the provision of non-lethal assistance that goes directly to aid and abet Russia’s war effort.»
While US officials do not believe that China is currently providing lethal assistance to Russia, Blinken said that «there are various types of lethal assistance that they are at least contemplating providing, to include weapons.»
Blinken said he had discussed the issue with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, at their meeting on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. Tensions between the two countries have already escalated this month over a Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot down by the US military, the discovery of which prompted Blinken to postpone a planned trip to Beijing.
At the Munich conference, Wang said that China would publish a document explaining its position on the political settlement of the Ukraine conflict in the coming days. Wang, who attended the conference as part of a broader trip to Europe, is expected to arrive in Moscow on Monday for talks on Ukraine and other issues in what could be a precursor to a trip to Moscow by Xi.
Also in Munich, Wang met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, telling him that China was on the side of peace and dialogue, according to a reading released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Sunday.
«We do not want the Ukraine crisis to prolong and escalate,» Wang said, «and we are ready to work with the international community to prevent further deterioration of the situation and persevere in the struggle for peace.»