With a reconnaissance plane in tow Thursday, a small fleet of eight fighters deliberately probed disputed airspace before scrambled jets scared them away, an air-to-air episode that may be part of the larger international epoch which President Biden frequently describes as one of “democracy versus autocracy.” But these weren’t Russian fighters. They were Chinese.
The incursion is not unusual; China frequently tests the air defenses of Taiwan. But this minor aggression occurred against a bleak global backdrop: Russian tanks are rolling across Ukraine, and while the United States rallies world opinion against Moscow, China won’t even call it an invasion.
For the moment, however, the White House would rather look past a deepening China-Russia partnership and not connect any dots.
If China comes to Russia’s economic rescue, would the United States consider inflicting some financial pain on Beijing? “One of the things we will have to watch is the question of whether the U.S. will impose secondary sanctions on China,” said Jacob Stokes, a fellow at the Indo-Pacific Security Program of the Center for a New American Security.
The Trump administration sanctioned the Chinese military in 2018 for purchasing military hardware from Russia, a violation of sweeping American sanctions levied as punishment for the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Similar sanctions, or the threat of them, could potentially scare off the Chinese from coming to Russia’s aid. A former adviser to then Vice President Joe Biden on Asia policy, Stokes said “The play might be: Can you get China to act in a relatively constructive manner, in exchange for some restraint from the U.S. in terms of secondary sanctions?”
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