The US is beginning to see “disturbing” trends in China’s support for Russia’s military, US officials familiar with the intelligence tell CNN.
The officials said there are signs that Beijing wants to “creep up to the line” of providing lethal military aid to Russia without getting caught.
The officials would not describe in detail what intelligence the US has seen to suggest a recent shift in China’s posture, but they’ve been concerned enough that they have been sharing the intelligence with allies and partners at the Munich Security Conference over the last several days, the officials said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will raise the issue if he meets with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Saturday on the sidelines of the conference, officials said, though such a meeting is not yet confirmed.
Vice President Kamala Harris also alluded to China’s support for Russia during her speech in Munich.
“We are also troubled that Beijing has deepened its relationship with Moscow since the war began,” Harris said Saturday. “Looking ahead, any steps by China to provide lethal support to Russia would only reward aggression, continue the killing and further undermine a rules-based order.”
Officials said the US is seeing China try to publicly present itself as a proponent of peace and maintain relationships with Europe, while at the same time quietly aiding Russia’s war effort and considering the provision of lethal aid.
Speaking at the conference Saturday, Yi said Beijing is prepared to present a peace proposition for Ukraine. Many European Union leaders in Munich share the US’ wariness of Beijing’s intentions.
More background: The Biden administration last month raised concerns with China about evidence suggesting Chinese companies have sold non-lethal equipment to Russia for use in Ukraine, according to two US officials.
That equipment has included items like flak jackets and helmets, multiple sources familiar with US and European intelligence told CNN.
China has stopped short of more robust military assistance, however, including lethal weapons systems for use on the battlefield in Ukraine. Russia has requested such aid, but China has not wanted to be seen as a pariah on the world stage, officials said.
But there are signs now that Beijing could be considering it, the officials said, and the Biden administration is warning publicly and privately that the US is monitoring closely for any violations of Western sanctions prohibiting military support for Russia.
China and Russia publicly declared a “friendship without limits” just before Russia invaded Ukraine last year, and Wang Yi is set to visit Russia this month, CNN has reported.