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U.S. Warns China Against a Superpower Proxy War in Ukraine

Beijing has denied receiving any request for weapons from Moscow, and it has not armed parties to other recent inter-state conflicts.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In an “intense” seven-hour meeting with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi on Monday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned of “consequences” if Beijing materially supports Russia’s war in Ukraine, a senior U.S. official briefed reporters.

The big picture: China is already providing its most powerful partner with tacit support, but U.S. officials are now trying to draw red lines to prevent a full-on superpower proxy war.

Driving the news: The FT’s Demetri Sevastopulo reports that the U.S. has warned allies in a diplomatic cable that China has “signaled its willingness” to provide Russia with weapons. Those include surface-to-air missiles, per the report.

  • While China’s next moves remain uncertain, fears are growing that Washington and Beijing could end up arming either side in a brutal land war — potentially escalating and prolonging it.
  • Far beyond the battlefield, such a move would herald an even more adversarial era in U.S.-China relations, says Hal Brands of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Sanctions and economic decoupling would “find a new gear,” and remaining hopes of a constructive relationship would evaporate.

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