United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned Chinese counterpart Wang Yi of consequences should Beijing provide material support to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Blinken said in an interview after the two met that Washington was concerned China 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 after Mr Wang scolded Washington as “hysterical” in a running dispute over the US downing of a suspected Chinese spy balloon.
Relations between the two countries have been fraught since Washington said China flew a spy balloon over the continental US before American fighter jets shot it down on President Joe Biden’s orders.
The dispute comes as the West is closely watching Beijing’s response to the Ukraine war.
In an interview to be aired on Sunday on NBC News program Meet the Press, Mr Blinken said the US was very concerned China was considering providing lethal support to Russia.
He said he had 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.
Mr Wang told Mr 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 on Sunday by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In another statement, the ministry warned Washington against further escalation.
“If the US insists on taking advantage of the issue, escalating the hype, and expanding the situation, China will follow through to the end, and the US will bear all the consequences,” it said.
In a briefing call to reporters, a senior State Department official said China was trying to “have it both ways” by claiming it wants to contribute to peace and stability while taking “concerning” steps to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“(The) secretary 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 said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Russia and China signed a “no limits” partnership last February before Russian forces invaded Ukraine and their economic links have boomed as Moscow’s connections with the West have shrivelled.
The West has been wary of China’s response to the Ukraine war, with some warning a Russian victory would colour China’s actions toward Taiwan.
China has refrained from condemning the war or calling it an “invasion”.
Earlier, speaking at a panel at the conference, Mr Wang reiterated a call for dialogue and suggested European countries “think calmly” about how to end the war.
He said there were “some forces that seemingly don’t want negotiations to succeed, or for the war to end soon”, without elaborating.
Mr Blinken and Mr Wang’s meeting came hours after the top Chinese diplomat took a swipe at the US, accusing it of violating international norms with “hysterical” behaviour by shooting down the balloon.
The balloon’s flight this month over US territory triggered an uproar in Washington and prompted Mr Blinken to postpone a planned visit to Beijing.
“To have dispatched an advanced fighter jet to shoot down a balloon with a missile, such behaviour is unbelievable, almost hysterical,” Mr Wang said.
“There are so many balloons all over the world, and various countries have them. So, is the United States going to shoot all of them down?”
In the interview with NBC, Mr Blinken said Mr Wang had not apologised for the balloon’s flight.
“I told him quite simply that that was unacceptable and can never happen again,” Mr Blinken said, referring to the balloon’s violation of US air space.
“There was no apology.”
Mr Blinken said he had not discussed rescheduling his trip to China with Mr Wang.
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