White House disputes claims China's economic support may handicap Russian sanctions

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The White House has insisted that economic sanctions against Russia, should it invade Ukraine, will prove effective even if China stands ready to provide relief. 

“If Russia has to resort only to China, in terms of purchasing oil and gas or to supplying technology, that’s going to make the Russian economy far more brittle,” a senior White House official told Fox News Digital. “If you look at where the inputs to the major foundational technologies of the world come from, they still come from the West.” 

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“If you deny yourself the ability to import from the West – from Europe, from the U.S., from our allies and partners – you are going to significantly degrade your productive capacity and your innovative potential,” the official added. “And Putin knows that.” 

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping gestures during a virtual meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing Dec. 15, 2021. 

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping gestures during a virtual meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing Dec. 15, 2021. 
(Huang Jingwen/Xinhua via AP)

The U.S. has threatened to hit Russia with sanctions – both on the state itself and against individuals, including President Vladimir Putin – should it proceed to invade Ukraine.

Diplomatic discussions stalled last week after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken provided a handwritten response to Russian demands. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that the response offered “little ground for optimism” but acknowledged “prospects for continuing dialogue.” 

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Some experts believe that any attempt to sanction Russia will provide limited impact as China would stand ready to supplement economic losses by increasing trade and energy purchases from Russia. 

“A lot of the talk about economic sanctions is really a pie in the sky because China is now Russia’s banker,” Robert L. Wilkie, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness during the Trump administration and visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told Fox News Digital. “Xi Jinping will back Putin if sanctions from the West come.”

Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, and Croatia Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman walk together ahead of their talks in Moscow, Russia, Jan. 17, 2022. 

Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, and Croatia Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman walk together ahead of their talks in Moscow, Russia, Jan. 17, 2022. 
(Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)

“[China] would start buying a lot more energy from Russia,” Wilkie explained. “If we went to move on the SWIFT loan system that gives Russia access to western capital, China would pick up the slack with that.”

The White House official did not want to speculate on what action the U.S. might take on China should it support Russia but did note that the U.S. has “unprecedented” economic measures at its disposal. 

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China does sit just behind the U.S. in regard to total technological output, according to the Brookings Institute, but China stands poised to overtake the U.S. in the next decade, meaning the gap between the two countries may not be as large as the White House believes. 

This gamble resembles a similar line of thinking the Biden administration followed when it removed sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline last year. 

A White House spokesperson last week told Fox News Digital that the administration saw the pipeline as leverage to use against Russia, indicating the belief that Russia has limited options and relies more on cooperation with the West than the other way around. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers a speech during a meeting of the German federal parliament, Bundestag, at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany Dec. 15, 2021. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers a speech during a meeting of the German federal parliament, Bundestag, at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany Dec. 15, 2021. 
(AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

But that leverage proved to be a double-edged sword that has instead led to greater European dependence on Russian oil and gas. ICIS analysis data for German gas supply shows that Russia accounted for 32% in Dec. 2021, according to Reuters. 

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An analyst claimed that Russia’s role for Germany “cannot be replaced during the next few years.” 

But U.S. officials have held talks with several international energy companies regarding plans to supply natural gas to Europe in the case of a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which would certainly disrupt the Russian supply. 

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