US seeks China pressure on Russia to end Ukraine war as it weighs economic options against Beijing

·5 min read

Washington wants China to pressure Russia into ending the war in Ukraine, but that does not mean the US will be soft on Beijing when it comes to lifting trade sanctions or extending other economic benefits, a senior US national security official said on Tuesday.

US President Joe Biden has kept in place tens of billions of US dollars' worth of punitive trade sanctions on Chinese imports imposed by former president Donald Trump under a US-China trade war that started in 2018. Recently, however, the Biden administration has suggested it could reduce some of these as a way to ease US inflation.

"There's no connection between our conversations with China on the Ukraine war - Russia's war in Ukraine and the issue of tariffs - and a potential set of steps the United States would take on, vis-a-vis China trade," said US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

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"The president wants to be sure that he's put together the right approach before he moves out with it. I don't think he feels that there is a particular deadline for it," he added, according to a White House readout. "Getting it right is more important than just doing it fast."

Speaking en route to a Nato security alliance summit in Spain taking place from Tuesday to Thursday, Sullivan said there was little evidence China was supporting Russia militarily or was violating in wholesale fashion sanctions imposed on Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine.

But Beijing needs to do all it can to end the war, which has seen many less developed nations suffer as food and fuel prices have spiked, he said.

"We believe that China cannot evade responsibility, given its relationship with Russia, for speaking more clearly to them," said Sullivan, citing the relationship between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. "From my perspective, that happening privately as opposed to publicly, it would be just fine if it produced a positive result."

The administration on Tuesday added 36 companies to a trade blacklist, including accusations against five firms in China for supporting Russia's war effort since Moscow invaded Ukraine. Russia is the object of heavy sanctions by Washington and its allies aimed at punishing Putin, Russian companies and oligarchs.

"Today's action sends a powerful message to entities and individuals across the globe that if they seek to support Russia, the United States will cut them off as well," said Alan Estevez, Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security, in a statement.

Sullivan did not address the announced violation by Chinese companies even as Washington vowed to closely monitor compliance and rigorously enforce US regulations going forward.

"We will not hesitate to act, regardless of where a party is located, if they are violating US law," said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration Thea Rozman Kendler.

Efforts to contain, counter and pressure Russia to back down are the main focus for the 30-nation Nato alliance this week. But the group is also making structural changes that place more emphasis on China.

A key outcome of the meeting is expected to be an updated strategic concept, replacing the last one issued in 2010.

"That strategic concept described Russia as a strategic partner and did not refer to China," said Sullivan. This one "will speak very directly and in a clear-eyed way to the multifaceted challenge posed by the People's Republic of China".

China voiced its displeasure. "Nato has long clung to the outdated security concept and become a tool for certain countries to maintain hegemony," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in Beijing, calling the new strategic concept "old wine in a new bottle".

"It still has not changed the Cold War mentality of creating imaginary enemies and bloc confrontation," Zhao added.

On February 4, three weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, Xi and Putin signed a lengthy manifesto outlining their "no-limit" partnership, calling on Nato to rule out expansion in Eastern Europe and denouncing security blocs in the Asia-Pacific region.

That appeared to backfire as Nato members plan to strengthen defence contributions to the alliance's eastern flank and focus far more attention on China and the Indo-Pacific.

The US will announce Wednesday that it is deploying more land, sea, and air forces in Eastern Europe for the long term, said Sullivan, adding that Nato has invited four Asia- Pacific nations to attend the summit as guests for the first time: Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. All enjoy close military ties to Washington.

The former Rhodes Scholar and Yale University graduate said the goal was not to see Nato fight wars in the Pacific but rather to reflect deepening bonds between US allies in the two military areas.

"This is consistent with President Biden's very strong view and central premise that the linkage in security between the Indo-Pacific and the Euro-Atlantic is only deepening," said Sullivan. "And so, the ties between allies in the two theatres have to deepen as well."

Sullivan said Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol would meet on Wednesday.

While the primary focus of the trilateral gathering will be North Korea's ramped-up testing of missiles and nuclear devices, analysts said China would almost certainly feature high on the agenda.

Sullivan said the administration was looking for new ways to sanction North Korea, particularly given Pyongyang's ability to find alternate sources of revenue in response to long-standing, punitive economic measures.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.