BRUSSELS — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will travel to Washington next week, with China’s potential supply of weapons to Russia expected to be high on the agenda of a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.
Her trip next Friday, confirmed by the White House, comes as EU officials are taking a wait-and-see approach to Washington’s claim that Beijing is considering providing Moscow with weapons. In a White House statement, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden will discuss “our work together to address the challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China” with von der Leyen.
U.S. officials are reportedly seeking to call on close allies to impose unprecedented sanctions on China, if Beijing provides military support to Russia for its war against Ukraine.
On Thursday, top Brussels-based diplomats from Ukraine, the U.S., Canada, Poland, the Baltic states, Japan and South Korea gathered for a lunch meeting. A spokesman for the Polish permanent representation to the EU, which organized the lunch, refused to disclose details of the discussion but said that the meeting was aimed at showing support for Ukraine.
A senior diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least one representative at the meeting said the EU should not act without proof of Chinese delivery of weapons to Russia. “Clearly a red line is crossed” if there is such proof, the diplomat added.
Another EU official, who was not at the gathering, said that the U.S. has fallen short of presenting evidence of China planning to provide weapons.
“There is a lot of talk out there … that China may be beginning to consider to deliver lethal weapons ammunition. We have not seen on our side, any concrete evidence of that so far,” the official said. “And I think if you look at the messaging from our U.S. friends, you’re seeing even slightly contradictory messaging at times, Biden was much softer … than others have been.”
In remarks aired on ABC News on Friday, Biden said: “I don’t anticipate — we haven’t seen it yet — but I don’t anticipate a major initiative on the part of China providing weaponry to Russia.”
That came after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Chinese firms were already providing “non-lethal support” to Russia, with new information suggesting that Beijing could provide “lethal support.”
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said in a press briefing Thursday that “there are tools available to not only the United States but to our allies and partners,” should China make moves to send weapons to Russia.
China’s Foreign Ministry has criticized Washington for “slandering” the country and questioning the U.S. sale of weapons to Taiwan while also supplying military support to Ukraine.
In Europe, officials have stepped up warnings targeted at Beijing. Addressing China in front of German lawmakers, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Thursday: “Do not supply weapons to the aggressor Russia.”
Earlier in the day, Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said helping Moscow militarily “will have consequences if countries crossed that line.”
“What I will convey to each of the colleagues, including my Chinese colleagues here, is that the truth here is not somewhere in the middle. There is only one country responsible and that is Russia,” Hoekstra added.
As well as China, talks on the Inflation Reduction Act and broader security issues are expected to be discussed during von der Leyen’s White House visit.
Europe and the U.S. have been at odds for months over Washington’s landmark green subsidies plan, which Brussels fears will drain the continent of investment and green technology.
Before Washington, von der Leyen will travel to Canada to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Von der Leyen and Trudeau are expected to discuss the supply of raw materials, as the European Commission prepares to unveil its Critical Raw Materials Act this month. Another hot potato is trade, since the EU-Canada trade deal has still to be ratified by a number of EU countries, although significantly Germany gave it the green light in December.