China turned around and shared it with the Russians including proposed sanctions
The Biden administration’s diplomatic outreach to China to try to avert war began after President Biden and Mr. Xi held a video summit on Nov. 15. In the talk, the two leaders acknowledged challenges in the relationship between their nations, which is at its lowest point in decades, but agreed to try to cooperate on issues of common interest, including health security, climate change and nuclear weapons proliferation, White House officials said at the time.
After the meeting, American officials decided that the Russian troop buildup around Ukraine presented the most immediate problem that China and the United States could try to defuse together. Some officials thought the outcome of the video summit indicated there was potential for an improvement in U.S.-China relations. Others were more skeptical, but thought it was important to leave no stone unturned in efforts to prevent Russia from attacking, one official said.
Days later, White House officials met with the ambassador, Qin Gang, at the Chinese Embassy. They told the ambassador what U.S. intelligence agencies had detected: a gradual encirclement of Ukraine by Russian forces, including armored units. William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, had flown to Moscow on Nov. 2 to confront the Russians with the same information, and on Nov. 17, American intelligence officials shared their findings with NATO.
At the Chinese Embassy, Russia’s aggression was the first topic in a discussion that ran more than one and a half hours. In addition to laying out the intelligence, the White House officials told the ambassador that the United States would impose tough sanctions on Russian companies, officials and businesspeople in the event of an invasion, going far beyond those announced by the Obama administration after Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
The U.S. officials said the sanctions would also hurt China over time because of its commercial ties.
They also pointed out they knew how China had helped Russia evade some of the 2014 sanctions, and warned Beijing against any such future aid. And they argued that because China was widely seen as a partner of Russia, its global image could suffer if Mr. Putin invaded.
The message was clear: It would be in China’s interests to persuade Mr. Putin to stand down. But their entreaties went nowhere. Mr. Qin was skeptical and suspicious, an American official said.
American officials spoke with the ambassador about Russia at least three more times, both in the embassy and on the phone. Wendy R. Sherman, the deputy secretary of state, had a call with him. Mr. Qin continued to express skepticism and said Russia had legitimate security concerns in Europe.
The Americans also went higher on the diplomatic ladder: Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke to Mr. Wang about the problem in late January and again on Monday, the same day Mr. Putin ordered the new troops into Russia-backed enclaves of Ukraine.
“The secretary underscored the need to preserve Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said a State Department summary of the call that used the phrase that Chinese diplomats like to employ in signaling to other nations not to get involved in matters involving Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong, all considered separatist problems by Beijing.
American officials met with Mr. Qin in Washington again on Wednesday and heard the same rebuttals. Hours later, Mr. Putin declared war on Ukraine on television, and his military began pummeling the country with ballistic missiles as tanks rolled across the border.