US officials say they are gratified by China’s apparent respect of its call to not overtly help Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.
Beijing’s acquiescence – or possible fear of secondary sanctions – is a welcome development in the tense Washington-Beijing relationship, they said.
US officials said they remain wary about China’s longstanding support for Russia in general, but the military and economic support that they worried about has not come to pass, at least for now.
Asia-US relations are at a pivotal point, with President Joe Biden preparing for a trip to Asia later this month dominated by how to deal with the rise of China.
His administration is soon to release his first national security strategy about the emergence of China as a great power.
“We have not seen China provide direct military support to Russia’s war on Ukraine or engage in systematic efforts to help Russia evade our sanctions,” a US administration official told Reuters.
As well as steering clear of directly backing Russia’s war effort, China has avoided entering new contracts between its state oil refiners and Russia, despite steep discounts.
In March the state-run Sinopec Group suspended talks about a major petrochemical investment and a gas marketing venture in Russia.
Last month, the US envoy to the United Nations hailed China’s abstentions on votes to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “win,” underscoring how Beijing’s enforced balancing act between Russia and the west may be the best outcome for Washington.
Still, China has refused to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine and has criticised the sweeping Western sanctions on Moscow.
Trade volume between Russia and China also jumped in the first quarter, and the two declared a “no limits” partnership in February.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week China is dealing with the “significant reputational risk” of being Russia’s ally and that “for now we’re not seeing significant support from China for Russia’s military actions.”
- Reuters, with additional editing by George Russell