US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cautioned top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi on Saturday of repercussions should China lend material support to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, stating in an interview after the two met that Washington was afraid Beijing was contemplating providing arms to Moscow.
The senior diplomats of the two nations met at a secret location on the margins of a global security summit in Munich, mere hours after Wang blasted Washington as "hysterical" in an ongoing disagreement over the US shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy balloon.
Relations between the two countries have been strained since Washington claimed that China sent a surveillance balloon over the continental United States, prompting President Joe Biden to order American fighter aircraft to shoot it down. The debate also occurred as the West closely monitors Beijing's stance on the Ukraine conflict.
In an interview that will air Sunday morning on NBC News' "Meet the Press with Chuck Todd," Blinken stated that the United States is extremely concerned that China is contemplating providing lethal support to Russia and that he made it clear to Wang that such a move "would have serious consequences in our relationship."
"There are various kinds of lethal assistance that they are at least contemplating providing, to include weapons," Blinken said, adding that Washington would soon reveal additional information.
A senior State Department official told reporters in a briefing call that China is attempting to "have it both ways" by declaring it wants to contribute to peace and stability while also taking "concerning" efforts to back Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Under the condition of anonymity, a senior official said, "(The) secretary was quite blunt in warning about the implications and consequences of China providing material support to Russia or assisting Russia with systematic sanctions evasion."
Russia and China signed a "no limits" alliance in February of 2014, just before the Russian invasion of Ukraine; their economic ties have flourished while Moscow's relations with the West have diminished.
The West has been apprehensive of China's attitude to the Ukraine conflict, with some expressing concern that a Russian triumph would affect China's Taiwan policy. China has refrained from declaring the war an "invasion." or denouncing it.
During an earlier panel discussion at the conference, Wang renewed his plea for diplomacy and urged European nations to "think calmly" about how to end the conflict.
In addition, he stated that "some forces that seemingly don't want negotiations to succeed, or for the war to end soon," without explaining who he was referring to.
The discussion between Blinken and Wang occurred just hours after the top Chinese official accused the United States of violating international standards through "hysterical" behaviour by shooting down the balloon.
This month's balloon flight over US territory sparked outrage in Washington and caused Blinken to postpone a trip to Beijing. This trip would have been the first by a US secretary of state to China in five years, and both sides viewed it as a chance to restore deteriorating relations.
"To have dispatched an advanced fighter jet to shoot down a balloon with a missile, such behaviour is unbelievable, almost hysterical," Wang remarked.
"There are so many balloons in the world, and they are found in numerous countries. Thus, will the United States shoot them all down?" he stated.
China responded angrily when the United States military shot down the 200-foot (60-meter) balloon on February 4, claiming it was used to monitor meteorological conditions and had strayed from its intended path. Washington stated it was unmistakably a surveillance blimp with a massive undercarriage carrying electronic equipment.
There were rumours that Blinken and Wang might use the Munich conference as an opportunity to reengage in person, but the State Department did not confirm the meeting until after it had concluded.
Blinken stated in his NBC interview that Wang did not apologize for the balloon's flight.
Blinken stated about the balloon's violation of US air space, "I told him quite simply that that was unacceptable and can never happen again,"
"There was no apology," he added, adding that delaying his trip to China had not been considered with Wang.
Relations between the United States and China touched a dangerous low in August after China's response to a visit to Taiwan by then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.
Craig Singleton, a China expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, said that while Wang's comments at the conference were likely intended to deflect embarrassment over the balloon incident, Washington's lack of a strong response "increases China's appetite for risk in future disputes."
"The meeting between Blinken and Wang will not alter the worsening trend in the US-China relationship. It is evident that there is little to no trust between the two parties, "Singleton remarked.