China resists Western pressure to scale back support for Russia

Published May 18, 2024
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a signing ceremony following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on March 21, 2023. — Reuters/File
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a signing ceremony following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on March 21, 2023. — Reuters/File

PARIS: Despite Western calls on China to cut its support for Moscow in the conflict with Ukraine by limiting supplies of dual-use materials and weapons components to Russia, Beijing has no interest in dropping its backing for President Vladimir Putin, analysts say.

While China does not want to upend its ties with the West, and insists it is not sending lethal weapons to Moscow, Washington has stressed that Russia would struggle to sustain its assault on Ukraine without Beijing.

On Thursday, Putin arrived in China on a two-day visit as Moscow is seeking more support from President Xi Jinping for the war effort in Ukraine following multiple rounds of Western sanctions.

The high-profile talks follow Xi’s summit last week in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, who welcomed “commitments” by China to “control strictly” the exports of dual-use goods while also evoking concern about “information that we may have” about violations by certain Chinese companies.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who also joined those talks, said that “more effort is needed to curtail delivery of dual-use goods to Russia that find their way to the battlefield”.

“Providing Russia with dual-use components rather than finished weapons has allowed China to provide support for Russia while claiming plausible deniability,” wrote Nathaniel Sher, a senior research analyst at Carnegie China.

“Even if Beijing curtails dual-use exports in order to avoid further sanctions, its strategic interest in Russia remaining a stable partner will persist.”

Citing customs data, Sher said that every month, China is exporting over $300 million worth of dual-use products identified by the United States, the European Union, Japan and the United Kingdom as “high priority” items necessary for Russia’s weapons production.

Such items refer to 50 dual-use products such as microelectronics, machine tools, radars and sensors, which are essential for manufacturing weaponry like missiles, drones and tanks, according to the think tank.

Jet parts to Russia

The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said that according to some estimates, Beijing’s overall share in Russian imports of machine tool parts jumped to 80-90 per cent last year.

“Throughout the war, China has sold millions of dollars worth of semiconductors, chips, ball bearings, navigation equipment, parts for fighter jets, and other components to Russia,” the Washington-based think tank said in a recent report.

“This has ultimately enabled the Kremlin to speed up its weapons production, including armor, artillery, missiles, and drones, and put up an effective defense against Ukraine’s 2023 counteroffensive.”

Western officials have expressed concern about transfers of dual-use materials from Chinese businesses to Russia.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2024

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