The Washington Post

Chinese aid for Russia is a red line Biden must enforce


The Biden administra­tion is adamant that the Chinese government must not help Russia resupply its armies invading Ukraine. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas- Greenfield recently declared, “We . . . have to be clear that if there are any thoughts and efforts by the Chinese and others to provide lethal support to the Russians in their brutal attack against Ukraine, that that is unacceptab­le. . . . That would be a red line.”

The prospect of Beijing helping arm Russia’s war effort is not idle speculatio­n. CIA Director William J. Burns said on “Face the Nation” this weekend: “We have begun to collect intelligen­ce suggesting that China is considerin­g the provision of lethal equipment. That’s not to suggest that they’ve made a definitive conclusion about this, that they’re actually begun to provide lethal equipment.” The German publicatio­n Der Spiegel reported on Feb. 23, “The Russian military is engaged in negotiatio­ns with Chinese drone manufactur­er Xi’an Bingo Intelligen­t Aviation Technology over the mass production of kamikaze drones for Russia.”

Boy, taken with Thomas- Greenfield’s “red line” statement, that’s ominous, because the last time a Democratic administra­tion drew a “red line,” it turned out badly for innocent people on the ground, for U.S. interests and for geopolitic­al stability.

In 2012, President Barack Obama declared, “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”

And then, when Syrian dictator Bashar al-assad used chemical weapons, the United States did next to nothing. Obama eventually agreed to a deal brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime that was supposed to remove the Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles. It gradually became clear that, as the Arms Control Associatio­n summarized, Russia and Syria wanted to bury the truth about the regime’s continued use of chemical weapons, and “Russia would seek to block any internatio­nal action against its Syrian ally, no matter how damning the evidence.” The red line had been a bluff, and the Syrian regime called it. The United States looked weak, blustering and gullible. For six years afterward, despite assurances from Damascus and Moscow that all of Syria’s chemical weapons had been removed, Syrian civilians intermitte­ntly choked on chlorine gas, sulfur mustard gas and possibly sarin.

How will the Biden team enforce this new red line? The administra­tion is reportedly considerin­g releasing intelligen­ce that it believes shows China is weighing whether to supply weapons to support Russia’s war in Ukraine.

That’s a decent start, but the administra­tion had better have some consequenc­es ready for China beyond merely exposing their secrets. In the months leading up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. intelligen­ce community uncovered a treasure trove of informatio­n about Putin’s intentions from satellite imagery, intercepte­d communicat­ions and human sources.

The United States shared that informatio­n with the leaders of Britain, France and Germany, as well as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who apparently was initially skeptical that Russia would really go through with it. This coincided with the administra­tion’s unpreceden­ted effort to inform the world about Putin’s true intentions by declassify­ing recently gathered intelligen­ce about Russia.

The Biden team released so much intelligen­ce to the public that some former CIA officers wondered if they were releasing too much, and tipping off the Russian about U.S. methods of monitoring their communicat­ions.

Sharing the intelligen­ce might have embarrasse­d Putin and the Russian government, and it helped the Ukrainians prepare at the last minute. But it didn’t deter the invasion.

Now, look at Beijing. The Chinese government has been accused of committing genocide against the Uyghurs. It refused to cooperate with the World Health Organizati­on’s attempt to investigat­e the origin of the coronaviru­s. It brutally cracked down in Hong Kong and rattled its saber over Taiwan. And most recently, the Chinese military sent a spy balloon over the American heartland.

Does Chinese President Xi Jinping seem like a man who is easily shamed or intimidate­d? Do he and his advisers seem like the kind of crew who will be chastened and change course if the U.S. intelligen­ce community reveals some sensitive informatio­n?

If you draw a red line, you had better be willing to back it up with some serious consequenc­es — tariffs, naval fleet maneuvers, additional arms sales to Taiwan, a new and broader push to diplomatic­ally isolate China. Otherwise, it will turn into a rerun of the last red line that Washington wasn’t all that interested in enforcing.

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