The US Secretary of State has warned China there will be “consequences” if Beijing provides material support to Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.
Antony Blinken said in an interview after meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that Washington was concerned Beijing was considering supplying weapons to Moscow.
The top diplomats of the two superpowers met at an undisclosed location on the sidelines of a global security conference in Munich.
Just hours earlier, Mr Wang had scolded Washington as “hysterical” in a running dispute over the Americans downing a suspected Chinese spy balloon.
Relations between the two countries have been deteriorating since Washington said China flew a spy balloon over the continental US before American fighter jets shot it down.
In an interview to be aired on Sunday morning on NBC News’ Meet the Press with Chuck Todd, Mr Blinken said the United States was very concerned that China is considering providing lethal support to Russia and that he made clear to Mr Wang that “would have serious consequences in our relationship”.
“There are various kinds of lethal assistance that they are at least contemplating providing, to include weapons,” Mr Blinken said, adding that Washington would soon release more details.
US warns China ‘spy balloon’ incident must ‘never happen again’
Spy balloons: A timeline of what has been shot down
China has ‘high-altitude balloon programme linked to army’
Mr Wang told Blinken the United States must “face up to and resolve the damage” to bilateral relations “caused by the indiscriminate use of force”, according to a brief statement released by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The diplomat was referring to the recent downing of what Washington called a spy balloon but Beijing claimed was a weather-monitoring craft.
Speaking to reporters in a briefing call, a senior State Department official said China was trying to “have it both ways” by claiming it wants to contribute to peace and stability but at the same time taking “concerning” steps to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Blinken “was quite blunt in warning about the implications and consequences of China providing material support to Russia or assisting Russia with systematic sanctions evasion,” the senior official added.
Beijing and the Kremlin signed a “no limits” partnership last February shortly before Russian forces invaded Ukraine, and their economic links have boomed as Moscow’s relations with the West collapsed.
The West has been wary of China’s response to the Ukraine war, with some warning that a Russian victory may have implications for China’s actions towards Taiwan.
China has so far refrained from condemning the war or even labelling it an “invasion”.
Earlier, speaking at a panel at the conference, Mr Wang called for dialogue and suggested European countries “think calmly” about how to end the war.
He added that there were “some forces that seemingly don’t want negotiations to succeed, or for the war to end soon”, without specifying who those forces were.