China’s government took U.S. intelligence provided to convince Beijing to join American-led efforts to head off a military attack on Ukraine and shared it with Russia, according to a person familiar with the activity.
Intelligence-sharing with a major U.S. adversary is unusual but was part of repeated diplomatic efforts by the Biden administration to gain support from China in dissuading Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine.
However, the Chinese government repeatedly rebuffed the efforts and instead turned over the intelligence data to Moscow, an indication of the growing ties between Beijing and Moscow.
The information-sharing began in a diplomatic exchange in December 2021 warning China that Russia was preparing an attack on Ukraine.
“Our information indicates that China then relayed that information to Russia, noting that the U.S. was attempting to sow division between China and Russia and that China would not try to dissuade Russia from invading,” said the person.
The exchanges continued up until Wednesday, when Russian military forces launched strikes throughout Ukraine.
The intelligence-sharing, first reported by The New York Times, involved details of large-scale Russian troop movements near Ukraine’s border that would later be used in the military operation to take over Ukraine that began this week
Beijing officials, reflecting the growing anti-U.S. posture of the Chinese Communist Party, several times dismissed the U.S. intelligence and appeals to pressure Moscow against invading.
The betrayal by Beijing of the U.S. diplomatic outreach was reflected in President Biden’s terse response to a reporter’s question on Thursday when asked if the United States is urging China to help isolate Russia.
“I’m not prepared to comment on that at the moment,” Mr. Biden said.
A State Department spokesman decline to comment on the failed diplomatic outreach.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said China bases its views of the Ukraine conflict “on its merits” and was in touch with both Washington and Moscow trying to avert a war.
“For some time, China communicated with relative parties, including Russia and the U.S., and has actively promoted the political settlement process of the Ukraine issue,” Mr. Liu said.
Mr. Liu noted recent calls between Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin, as well as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, and Emmanuel Bonne, a security advisor to French President Emmanuel Macron.
“All these phone calls focused] on exchanging views on the situation in Ukraine,” he said.
A White House National Security Council spokesperson said the administration has been clear in exchanges with China that it seeks to work together on issues of mutual concerns.
“Over the last several months we have briefed a range of nations on our strong concerns around Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine, and the impact that an invasion could have on regional and global security. That includes the PRC,” she said.
The spokesperson declined to provide details of the diplomatic exchanges.
“As President Biden has said, now is the time for the leaders of the world to speak out clearly against President Putin’s flagrant aggression, and to stand with the people of Ukraine,” she stated.
The world is watching to see which nations will support basic principles of freedom, self-determination and sovereignty or are tacitly supporting Moscow’s war, the spokeswoman said.
“Nations that side with Vladimir Putin will inevitably find themselves on the wrong side of history,” she said.
Additionally, the economic sanctions imposed on Russia and backed by U.S. allies are designed to limit the negative effects on those nations.
“Nations that try to evade or work around these measures will experience the consequences of those actions,” the spokesperson said, in a veiled reference to China.
Retired Navy Capt. James Fanell, former director of intelligence for the Pacific Fleet, said among China Hands in Washington there is a misguided belief that sharing intelligence with Beijing will prompt reciprocal actions that benefit U.S. national security.
“This foolish supposition has led to the sharing of sensitive information to the Chinese Communist Party officials while simultaneously refusing to share much lower levels of operationally relevant information with our allies,” Capt. Fanell said. “This mythical belief by these so-called experts has not only proved to be untrue, but has also severely compromised American intelligence sources and methods.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke by phone with Mr. Putin on Friday and urged him to negotiate with Ukraine, Chinese state media reported.
“China supports Russia and Ukraine to resolve issues through negotiations,” Mr. Xi reportedly told the Russian leader, a broadcast on China Central Television said.
Mr. Putin informed Mr. Xi that “Russia is willing to conduct high-level talks with Ukraine,” CCTV said.
The exchange followed comments by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying on Thursday accusing the United States of stoking the conflict in Ukraine by supplying arms to the Ukrainian military.
The United States has supplied an estimated $360 million in arms to bolster Ukraine’s defenses in recent months, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, small arms and other weapons.
China has made clear it is unofficially siding with Russia in the conflict by not condemning the military aggressions, despite a declared policy of respecting foreign nations’ sovereignty and not interfering in their internal affairs.
Ms. Hua also accused the United States of inciting the conflict by claiming the Russian invasion would take place Feb. 16, what she called a deliberate “false alarm” to incite a conflict.
“Those who follow the U.S.’s lead in fanning up flames and then shifting the blame onto others are truly irresponsible,” Ms. Hua said. “As the culprit, the person who started the fire should think about how to put out the fire as soon as possible.”
China has refused to characterize the Russian military operation as an invasion.
Earlier this month, China and Russia issued a joint statement signed by Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin pledging closer cooperation.
“China is willing to work with all parties in the international community to advocate a common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security concept, and firmly safeguard the international system with the United Nations at its core,” Mr. Xi said during the call with Mr. Putin.
Mr. Xi also thanked the Russian leader for traveling to Beijing to attend the Winter Olympics that concluded days before the Ukraine invasion.
The western economic sanctions on Russia are expected to drive Mr. Putin closer into the Chinese orbit.
China announced Friday that it is loosening controls on imports of wheat from Russia, a move that could alleviate some sanctions pressure on Mr. Putin.
The administration’s diplomatic effort to win Chinese support began after Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi held a virtual summit Nov. 15.
Following the meeting, U.S. officials said the most pressing problem for the United States and China could address is the Russian buildup near Ukraine, The New York Times reported.
That prompted White House officials to hold a one and half hour meeting with China’s ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang. The officials provided him with U.S. intelligence suggesting Russian armored units appeared to be surrounding Ukraine in preparation for an attack.
China was also told that sanctions on Russia for an invasion would impact China because of its commercial ties with Russia.
In all, four meetings with the Chinese at the embassy in Washington and on the phone. One meeting included Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
In the session, the Chinese ambassador voiced skepticism and noted Russia’s “legitimate security concerns” regarding Ukraine.
Late last week, Mr. Blinken called China‘s Mr. and urged him to help preserve Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity — among the Chinese Communist Party’s declared five principles of foreign policy.
The most recent diplomatic appeal was made to Mr. Qin in Washington on Wednesday and were told the same Chinese talking points shortly before the war in Ukraine began.