The Biden administration recently raised concerns with China about evidence it has that suggests Chinese companies sold non-lethal materials to Russia for use in Ukraine, in an effort to determine what Beijing is doing. knows about the transactions, according to two US officials.
This equipment includes items such as body armor and helmets, several sources familiar with US and European intelligence told CNN, but stops short of the more robust military assistance requested by Russia.
The equipment transfers are “concerning”, one of the US officials said, but at this stage it is unclear to Washington whether the central government is aware of them. Although state-owned enterprises dominate the Chinese economy, not all are subject to daily scrutiny.
Some U.S. officials believe the Chinese government is aware of the equipment transfers and should take steps to reverse them, the second official said.
While the Biden administration is still weighing the impact and overall significance of the support, it’s a growing concern among U.S. officials.
US officials declined to provide details of communications between the Biden administration and Beijing.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken will visit China in the coming weeks and transfers are expected to be discussed, the second official said.
CNN has contacted the Chinese Embassy in Washington for comment. Bloomberg first reported the contact between the Biden administration and Beijing.
If the Biden administration determines that China’s central government is intentionally providing assistance to Russia’s invasion — or knowingly authorizing that assistance — the administration will have to decide how forcefully to respond. From the very early days of the war, top aides to President Joe Biden have warned China of the potential consequences should China choose to back Russia in the conflict.
Such direct material assistance from the Chinese government would also represent an apparent deepening of China’s self-proclaimed partnership with Moscow, which so far has appeared carefully calibrated.
China and Russia publicly declared “boundless friendship” at the start of the conflict. But as Russia’s progress on the battlefield slowed and the international community rallied behind Ukraine, China stopped offering much of the financial and military support Moscow demanded. Beijing – deeply tied economically to the West in a way that Russia is not – wanted to avoid angering the global community, sources close to US intelligence said.
The United States believes that at the start of the war, China intended to sell lethal weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine, the US official said. But China has scaled back those plans significantly since then, this person said — in what the Biden administration considers a victory.
US intelligence officials have consistently said they have seen no evidence that China provided lethal aid to Russia.
“It turns out that there are actually limits to this partnership, at least in terms of President Xi’s reluctance to provide the kind of military assistance to Putin that he requested during the war in China. Ukraine,” CIA Director Bill Burns said. Judy Woodruff of PBS in December.
Still, China has avoided publicly criticizing Russia’s war efforts, and the two countries have repeatedly emphasized their partnership.
In December, after a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the two countries would strengthen cooperation between their armed forces and pointed to a growth in exchanges.