March 18th 2023.
Earlier this week, United States President Joe Biden declared he was intending to have a discussion with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in the near future. Subsequently, the Chinese government declared that Xi was travelling to Russia for a three-day summit with President Vladimir Putin, to act as a potential mediator in the Ukraine War. In Washington, government officials were profoundly dubious of China's intentions, as they had not condemned the war and were instead asserting that Russia was provoked into invading Ukraine. (Image Source: http://www.9news.com.au)
The White House worked to stop any efforts to present the Xi-Putin gathering as a mission of peace, considering any arrangement proffered by Beijing would be biased towards Russia and disadvantageous to Ukraine.
John Kirby, a representative for the National Security Council, said that a ceasefire at the moment would just be a way for Russia to collect itself before attacking again. (Image Source: http://www.9news.com.au)
Although the White House was aware of the potential summit for several weeks, there are still worries that the close relationship Xi and Putin have established in the past could further strengthen during the face-to-face talks. Also, there is a fear that stronger Chinese intervention in the conflict could significantly modify the battlefield conditions, or even extend the war at a time when the West is losing enthusiasm for supporting Ukraine.
As yet, there are no signs that Beijing has made a definitive decision to assist Russia in the war by providing lethal aid. But, US officials have been keeping an eye on signals that Xi is going to go ahead with it, and the summit could be the ideal opportunity for an announcement. Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser, noted that Russia is eager to involve other countries in the conflict, but the US stance remains the same regardless of whether the meeting takes place.
United States President Joe Biden said previously this week he was organizing to talk "soon" with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.
But before his team even began planning for the call, another gathering was taking shape: the Chinese government declared Xi intends to travel Monday to Russia for a three-day summit with President Vladimir Putin as Xi works to cast himself as a possible peacemaker in the Ukraine war.
In Washington, authorities view Xi's aims with deep scepticism; China has declined to reprimand the war and rather asserted Moscow was provoked into invading Ukraine.
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After China declared Xi's visit to Russia by saying he was travelling "for the sake of peace", the White House worked to forestall attempts to frame the Xi-Putin gathering as a peacemaking mission, proposing any arrangement offered by Beijing would be weighted toward Russia and damaging for Ukraine.
"As they begin to plan out their schedule, we certainly want to communicate how concerned we would be by any proposals from that would ... be one sided and reflect only the Russian perspective," said John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
He said such a Chinese proposition could incorporate some type of ceasefire, which he said would only provide a way for Russia to reorganize prior to launching a reprisal.
"A ceasefire now is essentially the ratification of Russian conquest," he said.
The Putin-Xi summit itself did not come as a shock to the White House since there have been reports such a meeting could happen for weeks. Nonetheless, there stay profound worries the "no limits" partnership Xi and Putin have solidified during past meetings could intensify during face-to-face talks.
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And there is a developing dread that further Chinese interference in the conflict would fundamentally alter the battlefield dynamics — or at least prolong the war at a moment when political appetite in the West for supporting Ukraine is being tested.
Xi has remained Putin's best antidote to US-led attempts at isolating Russia. Even Friday's decision by the International Criminal Court to issue a warrant for Putin — meant in part to prompt world leaders to "think twice before shaking his hand or sitting down with him at the negotiating table" — didn't appear likely to thwart him from his support.
So far, officials have said there hasn't been any sign that Beijing has made a last decision to assist Moscow's war efforts with lethal aid. But they have been contemplating it, according to American officials, who have been monitoring intelligence on a daily basis for indications that Xi is moving forward.
Next week's meeting could provide a venue for such an announcement.
"It's something that we will observe for," US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said this week.
"Obviously, Russia has its own interests in trying to pull other countries into this conflict if it can, but our position is the same whether or not they meet."