Russia has asked China for military and economic aid for its war in Ukraine, U.S. media reported Sunday, hours after the White House warned Beijing would face severe "consequences" if it helps Moscow evade sanctions.
Beijing refused to directly address the reports, instead accusing Washington of maliciously spreading "disinformation" over China's role in the Ukraine war.
U.S. officials told media that Russia had requested military equipment and support from its key ally.
Moscow also asked Beijing for economic assistance against the crippling sanctions imposed against it by most of the Western world, the New York Times said, again citing anonymous officials.
The officials declined to explain exactly what Russia had requested, or whether China had responded, according to the reports.
A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington told multiple outlets "I've never heard of that" when asked about the alleged requests.
And without directly handling the U.S. reports, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told journalists Monday that the US has "been spreading disinformation targeting China on the Ukraine issue, with malicious intentions."
Beijing has declined to directly condemn Moscow for launching its invasion, and has repeatedly blamed NATO's "eastward expansion" for worsening tensions between Russia and Ukraine, echoing the Kremlin's prime security grievance.
Zhao said that China had "played a constructive role in urging peace and calling for negotiations."
His comments came ahead of a meeting between a high-level U.S. delegation and a top Chinese official in Rome.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Yang Jiechi, the Chinese Communist Party's chief diplomat, met Monday morning behind closed doors at a large hotel in the Italian capital. They were not expected to address the media afterward.
The pair would "discuss ongoing efforts to manage the competition between our two countries and discuss the impact of Russia's war against Ukraine on regional and global security," National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said Sunday in a statement.
Sullivan made a round of Sunday talk shows to say the White House was "watching closely" to see whether China provides material or economic support to Russia to help it evade the punishing impact of sanctions.
"It is a concern of ours, and we have communicated to Beijing that we will not stand by and allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses from the economic sanctions," he said on CNN's "State of the Union" show.
Sullivan said that while he did not wish to "brandish threats" against major economic rival China, "we are communicating directly, privately to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions-evasion efforts."
Beijing said this past week that its friendship with Russia remains "rock solid" despite international condemnation of Moscow, and has expressed an openness to help mediate an end to the war.