One current U.S. official and one former U.S. official who are familiar with the intelligence say that the first clues that China might send Russia lethal help for its war in Ukraine came from Russian government officials.
Current and former U.S. officials said that after getting this information, they spent weeks checking it with other sources of intelligence and with allies who brought new streams of information.
Because the intelligence issues they were talking about were sensitive, the officials spoke on the condition that they could not be named.
Officials in the Biden administration were worried when they heard that China might give Russia weapons like ammunition and artillery. If Beijing did something like this, it could change the way the fight is going in Moscow’s favor.
A senior administration official said, “A Russian military that gets weapons and systems from China or gets help from China is more dangerous and powerful militarily.” This is bad news for the people of Ukraine.
Many high-ranking administration officials, such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and CIA Director Williams Burns, have said publicly that they trust the intelligence and warned China against giving Russia lethal military aid.
The Chinese government has called the US to claim that China is thinking about giving Russia lethal help disinformation.
The Americans say that China hasn’t shown any signs of going in that direction or making a decision.
During a press briefing at the White House on Thursday, John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, was asked how seriously the government takes China’s threats to give weapons to Russia.
“We don’t really know,” Kirby said.
Kirby said that the US doesn’t think China has said it won’t help Russia with its military, but it also hasn’t seen any signs that Beijing is moving towards doing so.
When asked what they thought, the NSC said they couldn’t say anything.
People who knew about the intelligence said that it was never clear what systems or equipment China was thinking of giving to Russia. This included figuring out if China could make drones that were better than what was already on the market.
A second high-level American official said, “People have different ideas about how serious China is about this.”
Burns said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the information was made public to stop China from giving Russia weapons.
Burns said, “We do not doubt that the Chinese government is thinking about giving us weapons.”
He continued Secretary Blinken and the President decided it was vital to make it very clear what the implications of that would be.
Officials in the administration thought about declassifying and making some of the intelligence public, but they decided not to because the sources used to get the information were sensitive and because the administration’s goal of telling China not to give Russia lethal aid seems to have worked, at least for now.
Even though Beijing has put forward a plan for peace to end the conflict in Ukraine, Washington has said that China is planning to help Russia with military help that could be fatal.
Vice President Joseph Biden and other top officials in the U.S. government have said that the plan is unfair to the U.S. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, has said that China’s participation in peace talks “is not terrible.” U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region have recently been strengthened, so some in the Biden administration see China’s recent warnings that it may get involved in the war in Ukraine as a power move meant to hurt the U.S.
But other officials are quick to point out that China hasn’t decided whether or not to get more involved in the conflict and is, in fact, keeping the same attitude it has had since the conflict started a year ago.
One high-ranking American official said that the Biden administration and China “simply know” that they will not agree on some things. We want Ukraine to be one of those places where we can all agree on something.
An official in the Biden administration said that one of their goals is to convince China that “it’s not right for Russia to kill innocent Ukrainian people, and no one should be helping them do it.”
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