China is seen pursuing its ' interests' as it decides whether to help Russia

China is seen pursuing its ' interests' as it decides whether to help Russia

March 15, 2022: -China will consider its interests when deciding whether it should help Russia cope with the impact of Western sanctions as a result of the Ukraine war, according to a former deputy sanctions coordinator for the U.S. State Department.

“The U.S. government will see China as very vital here,” Richard Nephew told CNBC on Monday, in responding to a question on how important China’s role is to ensure the efficacy of U.S. sanctions. He added that the Chinese could offer “some degree” of support for Russia as Moscow suffers from those sanctions.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. and European Union have stepped in with sanctions on Russia’s banks, central bank, and on the assets of its oligarchs. The U.S. in the previous week further imposed bans on Russian oil.

Investors are watching to see what China will do as those sanctions-hit Russia’s economy. The Financial Times reported that Moscow is counting on Beijing for help to cope with the blow to its economy. However, the U.S. is warning China not to support the rogue country.

“The Chinese are always going to consider their national interests, and they still have a substantial interest in being able to do business in Europe, do business in the United States,” Nephew told CNBC.

“The degree to which China is seen as undermining the sanctions campaign that the United States or Europe are pursuing may potentially adversely affect that. I think the Chinese are going to hold that pretty seriously.”

Since Russia attacked Ukraine, Beijing has refused to call it an invasion and said China would maintain average trade with both countries. Last week, Premier Li Keqiang said China was “deeply” worried about the crisis in Ukraine and warned that sanctions would hurt global growth. China has not joined the U.S., EU, and other countries’ sanctions on Russia.

But if Washington was to “strong-arm” Beijing on not supporting Russia, it’s “unlikely to work wonders,” said Nephew, a senior research scholar at Columbia University.

“Simultaneously, I think that they will even set that aside and the frustration, irritation, and with that aside, to ensure that their interests are taken into account,” he said, referring to China.

That could mean not being able to cooperate with Russia quietly, “but certainly not flagrantly violate U.S., European sanctions on Russia,” he added.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is scheduled for talks Monday with China’s top foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi, to discuss the invasion of Ukraine.

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