Updated by Faith Barbara Namagembe at 2048 EAT on Thursday 23rd February 2023.
NATO secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance has seen signs that China is considering supplying arms to Russia and warned Beijing against taking any move to provide military assistance to Moscow.
The comments on Thursday came days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China of consequences if it provided material support to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The concern that we have now is based on information we have that they’re considering providing lethal support, and we’ve made very clear to them that that would cause a serious problem for us and in our relationship,” Blinken told news outlet CBS.
Blinken clarified that he was referring to weapons and ammunition, but did not say what type of weapons.
“It is the US, not China, that has been pouring weapons into the battlefield,” shot back Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin the following day. “The US is in no position to tell China what to do.”
United States President Joe Biden had warned Chinese President Xi Jinping of “consequences” should Beijing offer Moscow “material support” on March 18 last year.
“We haven’t seen any supplies of lethal aid from China to Russia, but we have seen signs that they are considering and may be planning for that,” Stoltenberg told Reuters in an interview.
“That’s the reason why the United States and other allies have been very clear, warning against that. And China should of course not support Russia’s illegal war,” he added.
There was no immediate comment from China, but its foreign ministry said earlier on Thursday that any potential intelligence on arms transfers by China to Russia that the US plans to release was speculation.
Russia and China’s relationship came under focus on Wednesday as Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi in Moscow, hailing the importance of the two countries’ cooperation.
Noting the escalation in international tensions, Putin said that “in this context, cooperation between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation on the global arena is particularly important for stabilising the international situation”.
Ties between the two had reached “new frontiers”, he said, confirming that Chinese President Xi Jinping might soon travel to Moscow for a summit. The two men have met dozens of times since Xi became president.
Beijing has not condemned Moscow over the war, although the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”, took place shortly after Xi and Putin met in China and affirmed a “no limits” partnership.
The West has been wary of China’s response to the Ukraine war, with some officials warning that a Russian victory would colour China’s actions toward Taiwan. China has not condemned the conflict in Ukraine or called it an “invasion”.
Stoltenberg said China was a member of the United Nations Security Council and that Russia’s war against Ukraine violated the UN Charter.
“The basic principle of that charter is to respect the integrity of other nations and not to march in and invade another country with hundreds of thousands of troops,” he said. “Of course, China should not be part of that.”
China has said it will outline its position on how to settle the Ukraine conflict through political means in an upcoming paper – one which, according to Russian state media reports, will be published on the one-year anniversary of Russia’s “special military operation”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday that although he had not seen any Chinese peace plan as yet, he would welcome a meeting between Ukraine and China