Beijing Warned Against Sending Russia Lethal Aid for Ukraine War, Says U.S. Ambassador to China

May 2, 2023 10:08 PM
Pallets holding munitions are transported off an aircraft cargo loader into a Boeing 747 at Travis Air Force Base, California, on April 26, 2022. US Air Force Photo

The United States has “been unmistakably clear” in warning China against providing Russia with lethal weapons in its war with Ukraine, the American ambassador to Beijing said Tuesday.

“What we need to see from China is to push Russia to remove its troops” from Ukraine and put an end to the Kremlin’s missile and drone attacks on civilians, Nicholas Burns said.

The United States “would like to see from China much more tough-minded” stances when it comes to its dealing with Russia and the Russo-Ukraine War, Burns said, speaking at a Stimson Center online event.

China has not yet sent Russia lethal weapons to help it fight.

A telephone call between Presidents XI Jinping and Volodymyr Zelensky is “a good first step,” Burns said, but he hesitated to call what came out of the exchange an attempt to mediate an end to the conflict. He noted the 12-point proposal to de-escalate first and then negotiate was the same one that Beijing offered more than a year ago.

The future of self-governing Taiwan remains the thorniest unresolved security issue between the two powers.

The Chinese “say they want a peaceful resolution, [but] they reserve the right to the use of force” to bring the island under its control, Burns said. He termed the Taiwan Strait a vital waterway for maritime trade “that would have a major impact on the economy” regionally and globally if war broke out.

In the wake of then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in the summer of 2022, China immediately cut off eight direct lines of communications with the United States, including three to the Pentagon used to defuse potential crises, Burns said.

As Beijing shut down contacts with the United States after Pelosi’s visit, it embarked on a series of high-profile military exercises simulating an amphibious attack, blockading the island, launching military aircraft toward Taiwan to test its air defenses and test firing missiles that could be used to back an invasion.

“We need better channels; we need deeper channels” of communication with Beijing, Burns said. He added Washington has never been in favor of “icing” the relationship with China.

Relations on issues such as climate change, food security, international economic stability and global health appeared to improve this fall, Burns said, when Xi and President Joseph Biden met in Bali “until the balloon incident.” The Chinese-launched spy balloon that crossed much of North America was shot down off the coast of South Carolina in February.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken subsequently postponed his planned visit to meet with his counterpart in Beijing.

“Access for all of the U.S. Government has ebbed and flowed” in the past, Burns said. “We’re ready to work; we need a two-way street” where cabinet officials can meet personally with Chinese officials.

Beijing’s three-year-old “Zero COVID” policy complicates matters for business and trade, as well as student exchanges and American tourist visits to China. The mass-testing and mass -quarantining policy severely restricted access to the country but began to ease in December.

Burns stressed Washington’s renewed dedication to Indo-Pacific stability and security through its network of alliances and partnerships as China continues bullying neighbors from the Himalayas to the East and South China Seas. He called the visit of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to Washington this week “a demonstration … of our commitment to the security treaty” signed 70 years ago.

He cited the latest maritime incident between Beijing and Manila near the Spratly Islands in late April when a Chinese warship nearly collided with Philippine Coast Guard cutters on patrol in the disputed waters.

Burns called “the emergence of the Quad” – the United States, Japan, Australia and India – “a security alliance of sorts.”

Technology is “the heart of competition in the future,” he said, particularly in the fields of artificial intelligence, machine learning and quantum physics. “Many of them will be militarized.”

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense,,,, Government Executive and USNI News.

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