The United States told allies in NATO and several Asian countries on Monday that China had signalled willingness to provide military and economic aid to Russia, at Moscow's request, to support its war in Ukraine, a US official said as top US and Chinese officials met in Rome.
The message, sent in a diplomatic cable and delivered in person by intelligence officials, also said China was expected to deny those plans, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan was meeting with China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Rome, following his warning that China faced consequences if it helped Russia evade Western sanctions and amid reports Russia had asked China for military equipment.
Russia denied the reports, saying it has sufficient military resources to fulfil all of its aims in Ukraine. China's foreign ministry spokesperson described the reports as "disinformation".
Russia began its invasion of neighbour Ukraine on Feb 24, calling it a "special operation" to demilitarise and "denazify" Ukraine. Ukraine and Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of aggression.
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Disclosure of both Russia's request and China's response is part of a deliberate strategy by US officials to counter disinformation by being far more open about intelligence matters than usual, the US official said.
The diplomatic cable, or demarche, was relatively vague about China's willingness to provide arms to Russia, but intelligence officials were expected to share more details during in-person briefings, said the official.
Sullivan on Sunday said Washington was watching closely to see how far China provided economic or material support to Russia.
"We are communicating directly, privately to Beijing, that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions evasion efforts or support to Russia to backfill them," Sullivan said. "We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country, anywhere in the world."