White House seeks a more tolerant tone towards China before the Putin-Xi meeting

The White House has sought in recent weeks to tamp down its rhetoric on China in an effort to reduce tensions ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to three former officials and four current officials, the White House sought to reduce its rhetoric regarding China providing Russia lethal aid for use in Ukraine. This effort was aimed at reducing tensions, especially ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Officials said that one of the reasons for the softening tone is because Xi might feel compelled to send deadly aid to Russia. This could be a backfire.

One administration official stated that “We don’t want China to be boxed in.”

The White House stated that one month after first revealing publicly that U.S. intelligence had shown China was considering sending weapons to Russia. However, it hasn’t seen any evidence that China has made that decision. According to the White House, there are no signs that Xi has ruled out the possibility.

March 17, 2023 02.52

Officials are concerned that the meeting between Putin and Xi next Thursday in Moscow could lead to China helping to arm Russia. If not sending specific weapons, then by supplying Russia essential parts to boost its military industrial base.

Russia has been extracting household items such as breast pumps and washing machine for microchips.

According to officials, officials say that the administration is concerned that China might provide Russia assistance such as those chips. Officials have been discussing what sanctions the U.S. might impose on China. Officials said there are many options for structuring such sanctions. The more severe they are, the more likely they will adversely affect the U.S. economy.

Officials said that part of the White House strategy to reduce the rhetoric regarding China considering weapons for Russia is a decision made by senior officials after internal debate not to disclose the intelligence claimed by the U.S. Although they acknowledged that the White House could declassify the intelligence and release it at a later date, the current focus is on privately persuading China to stop supplying lethal aid to Russia.

A former official in the administration stated that there is a feeling that making it public will back Xi. He will then end up supplying weapons to make him look stronger.

Senior administration officials have adopted a more measured approach to public speaking after initially warning China not to supply Russia with lethal assistance. Officials now acknowledge that China doesn’t want to supply weapons, but they aren’t willing to discuss how the U.S. would react if it did.

John Kirby, the spokesperson for National Security Council, addressed questions regarding China possibly supplying weapons to Russia last month by making it clear that there would be consequences and imploring Beijing to not make such a move.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke in a similar tone, vowing a firm U.S. response.

Blinken stated that “we will not hesitate to, for example, target Chinese companies and individuals who violate our sanctions, or otherwise engage in supporting Russia’s war effort.”

Kirby was asked about the possible U.S. response to China’s supply of weapons to Ukraine. Kirby replied: “I don’t believe it’s helpful at this time to hypothesize about potential consequences.”

He pointed out that Blinken had “spoken about the fact there would be consequences” and said: “I think it’s probably best if we just leave that at that.”

This shift in tone comes after weeks of increasing hostility between the U.S. & China, following President Joe Biden’s attempt to repair frayed relations with Xi last November.

Tensions escalated when China flew a spy plane across the U.S. last month. This prompted Blinken cancelling a trip to Beijing as soon as he was due to leave. Two weeks later, the White House made public accusations that China may be considering providing lethal aid to Russia to use in Ukraine.

Officials stated that the administration is still hopeful of repairing months of deeply strained relationships, which reached further lows last year with China flying a spy plane across the U.S. and then the U.S. accusing China about considering sending weapons to Russia.

A second official from the administration said, “We want to seek a better basis for this relationship.”

Officials said that if China supplies Russia with lethal aid, it is difficult to see how relations will improve in the near future.

A spokesperson for National Security Council replied to a request to comment. He pointed to Kirby’s remarks to reporters on Friday, when he stated that the administration is still concerned about China supplying weapons to Russia. However, he has not seen any evidence that such a decision has been made.

Kirby also stated that, prior to Putin and Xi’s meeting, any Chinese proposal for ending the Ukraine conflict should be met skeptically. He called the 12-point plan Beijing presented recently “one-sided” because it benefits Moscow.

Xi will meet with Putin next week, despite Biden’s plans not to have a call with the Chinese leader.

Biden stated that he would speak with Xi in the coming month and that they would “get the bottom” of the spy balloon incident. Kirby, spokesperson for the National Security Council said that no call had been made and that efforts to arrange one are still underway. However, this could change in the coming days.

Feb. 28, 202302:22

This call would end a weeklong exchange of barbs between China, the U.S. and other countries.

Biden accused China with violating U.S. sovereignty by sending the spy balloon to spy on it, and Blinken warned China the U.S. would impose sanctions on Beijing if Xi sent weapons to Russia.

Beijing claimed that the Biden administration overreacted to the spy balloon incident. Mao Ning, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, said that the U.S. was spreading disinformation by accusing China about considering sending weapons to Russia. She also called it hypocritical due to the Biden administration’s military support of Ukraine.

China claimed this week that the U.S. is on the path to “danger.” It presented a multi-billion-dollar deal for a nuclear-powered submarine with Australia and the U.K. in an attempt to stop China’s aggression within the Indo-Pacific.

Even Xi made a rare public, direct critique of the U.S. last Wednesday. He said that the United States and Western countries had implemented “all-round containment of, encirclement, and suppression” of China.

Victor Cha, senior vice-president for Asia and Korea at Washington, D.C.’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, stated that Xi may not be able to reduce the rhetoric.

Cha stated that Xi will do what he wants after the meeting next week, regardless of what the U.S. may say.

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