The Biden administration spent three months trying to convince China to tell Vladimir Putin not to invade Ukraine, only to have Chinese officials say their intelligence hasn’t convinced them and that they don’t think Moscow is going to launch an invasion.
In fact, after one exchange of US officials, it emerged that Beijing had shared information with Moscow, telling the Russians that Washington was trying to sow discord.
Russian troops entered Ukraine on Wednesday evening as Putin launched his well-orchestrated plan.
A day later, Biden was asked bluntly if he was cooperating with China in an attempt to isolate Russia.
“At the moment I am not ready to comment on this,” the president replied.
According to The New York Times, his administration’s contacts with Beijing began in November after the president held a video summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
The two leaders agreed to work together on health security, climate change and nuclear proliferation.
The leaders of Russia and China have met more than 30 times since 2013 and the relationship is believed to be in the best shape in decades as they oppose NATO expansion.
Soldiers drive a Russian armored vehicle in Armyansk, Crimea, February 25, 2022.
People walk past smoldering destroyed Russian military vehicles on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, February 25, 2022. Russian troops advance on the Ukrainian capital on Friday as gunfire and explosions rumble closer to the government quarter.
Russian armor is now advancing on Kiev from the north and east, and US intelligence says the plan is to lay siege to the city, capture the airport, and land paratroopers who will then attack the capital. The goal would be to take over the government and force it to sign a peace treaty returning control of the country to Russia or a Russian puppet.
The officials then discussed whether the Russian troop buildup around Ukraine could be an issue that the two countries could try to solve together.
Some were skeptical, but others felt it was worth trying something that could deter a Russian attack, one official said.
A few days later, White House officials met with the Chinese ambassador and told him that US intelligence indicated that Russian troops, including armored units, were encircling Ukraine.
The meeting lasted more than 90 minutes, according to the newspaper, and officials told the Chinese diplomat that the United States plans to impose strict sanctions against Russian companies and officials in the event of a Russian invasion – much tougher than in 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea.
Officials reportedly said Beijing’s commercial ties with Russia would mean its own economy would feel some of the impact.
And they said those ties would mean that China’s image in the world would also suffer if Putin continued to invade.
The New York Times reported that officials spoke to the ambassador at least three more times; Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman also called him, but Qin remained skeptical of the intelligence and said Moscow had legitimate security concerns.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the matter in late January and just this week on Monday, the same day Putin announced he was sending troops to Ukraine’s two breakaway enclaves.
“The Secretary of State stressed the need to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the State Department’s summary of the call reads.
In recent weeks, officials have also linked the date of Putin’s planned invasion to the Beijing Winter Olympics, warning that Russia could attack before the games are over, hinting that China’s position on the world sports stage could be tarnished.
By Wednesday evening, it became clear that the attempt had failed.
And Beijing’s subsequent statements show that it was unimpressed by the US warnings.
For example, Xi spoke to Putin on the phone on Friday.
“It is necessary to abandon the Cold War mentality, take into account and respect the legitimate security interests of countries, and form a balanced, effective and sustainable mechanism through negotiations. [for ensuring] European security,” Xi told Putin, according to China Central Television.