WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden’s bid to drive a wedge between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Ukraine war will be a key topic of discussion this week when Biden travels to Brussels for talks with European leaders.
The United States and its allies will discuss providing weaponry and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and the Ukrainian refugee crisis at an extraordinary NATO summit, meeting of the Group of Seven economies, and a European Council summit on Thursday.
But after his inconclusive talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday, Biden also plans to coordinate a response to Beijing if it provides material support to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with European leaders, U.S. administration officials say.
“During his visit to Brussels, President Biden will coordinate with our EU partners on all aspects of our response to President Putin’s unprovoked and unjustified war on Ukraine, and this includes the concerns we share with the EU if China provides material support to Russia,” said a senior Biden administration official.
The success of close coordination on economic sanctions, export controls and trade measures imposed on Russia have brought Europe and the United States closer together, a second senior U.S. official said. These democratic leaders have growing concerns about China’s potential role in the conflict.
“The challenges that we face … are the same ones the Europeans face. And so I really do think that there is … an inflection point here in many ways,” the second official said.
European nations and the United States have been working behind the scenes for weeks to try to convince Chinese officials not to back Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special operation,” and to push Putin for a cease fire. The war has killed hundreds of civilians, destroyed towns and displaced millions.
The Chinese ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that China was not sending arms or financial assistance to Russia. However, he and other Chinese officials have publicly rejected a push to change course, claiming China is on the right side of history.
Some diplomats and analysts see signs that Beijing is shifting. Recent statements from Beijing have called for a cease fire, and emphasized the war’s cost to the global economy, one European official noted, a split from Russia’s position.
In the year since Biden took office, Xi has shown no sign of buckling to various U.S. demands, and has been using closer ties with Russia as a counterweight against pressures exerted on China by the West.
Xi has rejected investigations into the origin of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, in 2019. He has refused to pressure North Korea to rein in its nuclear weapons program and rejected criticism of Chinese treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. He has raised tensions with Taiwan and continued a quest to dominate the South China Sea.
However, China’s close economic ties to Group of Seven wealthy democracies, which buy about one-third of its exports, could provide leverage in the bid to distance Xi from Putin.
(Reporting By Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal and David Brunnstrom in Washington and John Irish in Paris; Editing by Heather Timmons and Alistair Bell)