Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday said Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia sends a “troubling message.”
Xi earlier this week concluded his three-day visit to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a visit seen by the West as Beijing doubling down on its support for the Kremlin in its war in Ukraine.
“Xi’s visit to Putin and remaining there for a couple of days I think sends a very troubling message, a message of support,” Austin told lawmakers on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.
While the U.S. military has not assessed Beijing as yet providing any military weapons or equipment to Moscow, “certainly just showing support by his presence there, I think, is very troubling,” Austin said.
Austin added that should Xi decide to provide material support to Russia, “it would prolong the conflict and certainly broaden the conflict potentially — not only in the region, but globally.”
U.S. officials warned last month that there will be “consequences” if China begins to provide lethal aid to Russia to support its war in Ukraine.
And Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday accused Xi of providing “diplomatic cover” to Putin during the visit.
But China, which labeled Xi’s visit a “journey of friendship, cooperation and peace,” has claimed that it remains neutral in the conflict and seeks to promote peace talks, and has not provided Moscow with any weapons.
Beijing also accused the United States of “fanning the flames” in Russia’s attack on Ukraine by providing military assistance to Kyiv.
The visit was Xi’s first trip to the Russia since the country invaded Ukraine last year.