It may be charitable to infer that President Biden and the officials running the show in his administration don’t have a clue. The question is implicit in Edward Wong’s February 25 New York Times story “U.S. Officials Repeatedly Urged China to Help Avert War in Ukraine.” Subhead: “Americans presented Chinese officials with intelligence on Russia’s troop buildup in hopes that President Xi Jinping would step in, but were repeatedly rebuffed.”
Wong’s story is “is based on interviews with senior administration officials with knowledge of the conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the diplomacy. The Chinese Embassy spokesman, Liu Pengyu, answered an earlier request for comment a half-day after this article was posted online, saying, ‘For some time, China has actively promoted the political settlement process of the Ukraine issue.’”
Over three months, senior Biden administration officials held half a dozen urgent meetings with top Chinese officials in which the Americans presented intelligence showing Russia’s troop buildup around Ukraine and beseeched the Chinese to tell Russia not to invade, according to U.S. officials.
Each time, the Chinese officials, including the foreign minister and the ambassador to the United States, rebuffed the Americans, saying they did not think an invasion was in the works. After one diplomatic exchange in December, U.S. officials got intelligence showing Beijing had shared the information with Moscow, telling the Russians that the United States was trying to sow discord — and that China would not try to impede Russian plans and actions, the officials said.
This may come as a shocker to complete fools:
The previously unreported talks between American and Chinese officials show how the Biden administration tried to use intelligence findings and diplomacy to persuade a superpower it views as a growing adversary to stop the invasion of Ukraine, and how that nation, led by President Xi Jinping, persistently sided with Russia even as the evidence of Moscow’s plans for a military offensive grew over the winter.
One doubts the percipience of “American officials” and fears that “Chinese officials” have taken its measure — or confirmed their estimate of it. Unlike the ladies and gentlemen of the Biden administration, the Chinese officials are not fools.
I take it that “Chinese officials” have taken the measure of “American officials” for some time. Deeper into this story Wong reports:
The Biden administration’s diplomatic outreach to China to try to avert war began after President Biden and Mr. Xi held a video summit on Nov. 15. In the talk, the two leaders acknowledged challenges in the relationship between their nations, which is at its lowest point in decades, but agreed to try to cooperate on issues of common interest, including health security, climate change and nuclear weapons proliferation, White House officials said at the time.
The “American officials” followed up in short order with their Chinese counterparts regarding Putin’s plans for Ukraine. This is painful:
Days later, White House officials met with the ambassador, Qin Gang, at the Chinese Embassy. They told the ambassador what U.S. intelligence agencies had detected: a gradual encirclement of Ukraine by Russian forces, including armored units. William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, had flown to Moscow on Nov. 2 to confront the Russians with the same information, and on Nov. 17, American intelligence officials shared their findings with NATO.
At the Chinese Embassy, Russia’s aggression was the first topic in a discussion that ran more than one and a half hours. In addition to laying out the intelligence, the White House officials told the ambassador that the United States would impose tough sanctions on Russian companies, officials and businesspeople in the event of an invasion, going far beyond those announced by the Obama administration after Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
The U.S. officials said the sanctions would also hurt China over time because of its commercial ties.
They also pointed out they knew how China had helped Russia evade some of the 2014 sanctions, and warned Beijing against any such future aid. And they argued that because China was widely seen as a partner of Russia, its global image could suffer if Mr. Putin invaded.
The message was clear: It would be in China’s interests to persuade Mr. Putin to stand down. But their entreaties went nowhere. Mr. Qin was skeptical and suspicious, an American official said.
This is not my favorite genre of journalism and the New York Times is not a trusted intermediary. However, the story aligns with our own public observations of “American officials.” Given the support of the Times for the words and deeds of the Biden administration, it cannot lightly be disregarded. NRO’s Jimmy Quinn draws on it for a good post here.
Today the Times adds this shocker: “As Russia wreaks havoc in Ukraine, Moscow has a powerful economic ally to help it resist Western sanctions: China.”