The US fears that China could support the Russian invasion of Ukraine with weapons. If that happens, Washington wants to impose new sanctions on Beijing. Agreements with western partners are said to be already underway.
According to insiders, the United States is exploring the possibility of new sanctions against China with close Western allies. Several government officials told the Reuters news agency that these are measures to be taken in the event that China provides military support to Russia in the war against Ukraine. The explorations are still at an early stage. They should serve to gain the support of the G7 group of seven leading industrialized countries in particular, in order to coordinate support for possible measures. In addition to the USA, the G7 includes Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Canada and Great Britain.
Exactly which sanctions could be involved remained open. China's role in the Ukraine war should also be a topic at the meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Washington on Friday. The US Treasury Department, which is in charge of imposing sanctions, declined to comment on the information. The United States has repeatedly said in recent weeks that China is considering arms sales to Russia. The government in China has rejected this.
The first exploratory steps by the US included informal contacts at the personal and diplomatic levels, including at the Treasury Department, insiders said. The cornerstone for possible action against the Beijing government should be laid with the core group of countries most supportive of sanctions against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine a year ago. The US efforts have not yet led to a broad agreement on concrete measures.
A US official said the US first wanted to raise the idea of coordinated sanctions and "give momentum" in the event that Chinese military supplies to Russia were detected. A government official from one country consulted by the US said he had received little information supporting the US's assumption that China was providing military support to Russia. A US official said it would provide allies with detailed intelligence information.
Daniel Kritenbrink, the top US diplomat for East Asia, said before the US Congress this week that the US had very clearly signaled its concern to China - privately at the security conference in Munich and also publicly. "We've talked about the implications and the consequences. (...) And we also know that many of our like-minded partners share these concerns."
Among the problems that could arise with the imposition of sanctions on the world's second largest economy are China's strong ties to the major economies of Europe and Asia. Countries from Germany to South Korea are therefore reluctant to anger China.
Anthony Ruggiero, sanctions expert under ex-US President Donald Trump, said the US could restrict private actors in China economically. They could make it clear to China that they would step up sanctions to hit Chinese banks by any means available. So the US should give China the choice of either gaining access to the US financial system or supporting the war against Russia. That could deter China's government and banks from further aid to Russia.