China has not moved toward providing lethal aid that would help Russia in its invasion of Ukraine and the US has made clear behind closed doors that such a move would have serious consequences, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday.
"Beijing will have to make its own decisions about how it proceeds, whether it provides military assistance – but if it goes down that road it will come at real costs to China," Sullivan told CNN's "State of the Union" programme.
China has not moved forward in providing that aid, but neither has Beijing taken that option off the table, Sullivan said in a separate interview on ABC's "This Week" programme.
US officials have warned their Chinese counterparts privately about what those costs might be, Sullivan said, but he would not elaborate on those discussions.
The US and its Nato allies in recent days have been scrambling to dissuade China from such a move, making public comments on their belief that China is considering providing lethal equipment to Russia. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday said China has been providing nonlethal assistance to Russia through its companies.
US President Joe Biden visited Kyiv and met with President Volodymyr Zelensky last Monday, promising new American military aid for Ukraine worth US$500 million (RM2.22 billion). Friday marked the first anniversary of Russia's invasion.
The US has been by far the largest supplier of military assistance to help Ukraine repel better-equipped Russian forces. Ukraine expects a major new Russian offensive soon.
CIA director William Burns also weighed in regarding China in an interview aired on Sunday.
"We're confident that the Chinese leadership is considering the provision of lethal equipment. We also don't see that a final decision has been made yet, and we don't see evidence of actual shipments of lethal equipment," Burns told CBS's "Face the Nation" programme.
Republican representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, cited reports that drones are among the lethal weapons China has considered sending to Russia.
McCaul said Chinese leader Xi Jinping is preparing to visit Moscow next week for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin has alluded to a Xi visit but the timing has not been confirmed by Russia or China.
Russia and China signed a "no limits" partnership in February 2022 shortly before Russian forces invaded Ukraine. Economic links between Russia and China have deepened while Moscow's connections with the West have shrivelled.
Biden said on Friday the US would respond if China were to supply Russia with lethal weapons to use in Ukraine, but added in an interview with ABC News, "I don't anticipate a major initiative on the part of China providing weaponry to Russia."
The West has been wary of China's response to the invasion, with some officials warning that a Russian victory would color China's actions toward Taiwan. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring the self-ruled island that it considers a wayward province under its rule. China has not condemned the conflict in Ukraine or called it an "invasion."
"The fact that they're going to meet next week, chairman Xi and Putin, to discuss this unholy alliance that they have, to put weapons into Ukraine, to me is very disturbing because while maybe Ukraine today, it's going to be Taiwan tomorrow," McCaul said. "That's why this is so important."
The West reacted with scepticism to China's proposal on Friday for a Ukraine ceasefire, with Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg saying Beijing did not have much credibility as a mediator because of its failure to condemn the invasion. Ukraine rejected the proposal unless it involves Russia withdrawing its troops.