Moscow has on at least two occasions pressured Beijing to offer new forms of economic support – exchanges that a Chinese official described as “tense”. Officials familiar with the conversations spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
They declined to share details of Russia’s requests, but one official said they included maintaining the “trade commitments” that preceded the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, and financial and technological support now being imposed by the United States and other countries.
“China has made clear its position on the situation in Ukraine, and the illegal sanctions against Russia,” said a person in Beijing with direct knowledge of the discussions. “We understand [Moscow’s] impasse. But we cannot ignore our position in this dialogue. China will always act in the interest of the Chinese people.”
Chinese and US officials have said China is in trouble as it seeks the help of its most important strategic partner, which has started a war that Beijing did not expect would now enter its fourth month. They said President Xi Jinping tasked his closest advisors with finding ways to help Russia financially but without violating sanctions.
“It was difficult,” said a senior US official. “It is insufficient from the Russian point of view.”
The US official said China has tried to find “other opportunities” diplomatically, and through joint military exercises, to support Russia. Last week, Russia and China flew strategic bomber aircraft over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea President Biden was in Tokyo, at the conclusion of his first trip to Asia. This was their first joint military exercise since the invasion of Ukraine and a clear sign of the growing strategic partnership between Moscow and Beijing.
“What China is trying to do is to be with Russia, to be neutral publicly and not to be financially compromised,” the US official said. Many of these goals are contradictory. It’s hard to achieve at the same time.”
The Russian Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.
China has called for an end to the war but has refused to join a global consortium of nations to impose sanctions on Moscow, blaming the conflict on the United States and NATO’s expansion into Europe.
For a long time, China and Russia have maintained normal cooperation in the fields of economy, trade and energy. The problem is not who will help Russia bypass sanctions, but the normal economic and trade exchanges between Russia and China have been unnecessarily damaged, said Liu Bingyu, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington.
Liu added that the sanctions created a “lose-lose” situation for all parties and made the “already difficult global economy worse.”
Beijing’s popular support for Russia has not wavered. Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, reiterated, on Wednesday, his commitment to Moscow during a virtual meeting, which was also attended by his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. Wang said China is ready to work with Russia to promote “real democracy,” referring to China’s foreign policy goal to counter what it called US hegemony in world politics.
Chinese officials said Russia did not order “weapons and ammunition” to support its war, but declined to comment on whether Russia requested other materials that could be used in military operations including technology and supplies.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Wednesday that the United States has not seen any “systematic efforts” by China to help Russia evade sanctions, nor has it seen any significant military support from China for Russia.
Blinken, speaking at a Council on Foreign Relations event marking the centenary of Foreign Affairs, noted a “notable corporate exodus from Russia” as a result of the invasion — 7,800 companies, Blinken said, “didn’t want their reputations to be at risk by doing business.” business in Russia.
Blinken said the sanctions themselves were not the driver of the exodus. “It was the companies that really decided on their own that they weren’t going to do business as usual in a country that was committing this kind of aggression. That’s something I think China also has to take into account when they think about their relationship with Russia.”
A Beijing official said China has been reluctant to help Russia evade sanctions, fearing that the United States and its allies could isolate China from vital technology, including semiconductors and space equipment, as well as target its financial system. Shipments of high-end Chinese technology to Russia — including smartphones, laptops, and telecommunications equipment — Since the start of the war.
However, the Chinese maintain that US and Western sanctions are illegal and that China will continue to do business with Russia. “The Chinese side is ready to fulfill its obligations to the Russian side, and it does so when the appropriate conditions are met,” said the person familiar with the discussions in Beijing.
Asked about US warnings that China would face consequences if it helped Russia, the person said, “The real reason is to sow discord between the Chinese side and the Russian side… It won’t happen. They won’t succeed in undermining Sino-Russian relations.”
However, the Chinese official noted that the war in Ukraine lasted much longer than expected, and Beijing made it clear to Moscow that ending the conflict would allow China more freedom to oppose sanctions and develop trade relations within Russia in the aftermath. from the immigration of foreign companies.
“I think the hope of the United States and Europe is that China will have to choose,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. [between siding with Russia or with the West] And he will make the right decision. But China has competing interests, and it would be virtually impossible to force it to put its long-standing support for its territorial integrity and sovereignty above its relationship with Russia.”
“The whole point of standing with Russia is that they want Russia to work with them in a strategic alignment against the United States,” said Yoon Sun, co-director of the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center. Beijing risks undermining its relationship with Moscow.
A second Chinese official said discussions between high-ranking officials emphasized Russia’s fast-track projects within China to cement ties while minimizing risks to Beijing. And open source documents show that Russia-related projects inside China are moving forward.
Domestic Chinese bid documents show that financing of new construction on the strategically important gas pipeline between Russia and China on the eastern route has continued since the start of the war, with new purchases of materials and machinery intended for the southern part of the project. It is expected to provide 18.9 billion cubic meters of Russian gas to China’s economically vibrant Yangtze Delta region by 2025.
In April, the China Institute of Atomic Energy also purchased new services and equipment from the Russian nuclear engineering company OKBM Afrikantov for China-built Russia. The documents show the Experimental Nuclear Fast Reactor (CEFR) project near Beijing. In the same period, it purchased new supplies and services from Russia’s Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom for the Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant, a prominent Sino-Russian project under construction in China’s Jiangsu Province.
Beijing has also directed municipal and provincial governments to launch projects to expand trade and financial ties with Russia, according to Beijing officials and local bid documents filed in China.
One of the documents released on May 19 outlining funding for research into investment opportunities in Russia states for the Northeast China manufacturing hub and port of Dalian, which is located near the Russian border.
Chinese officials also said the top leadership has called for new investment and new trade with Belarus, which has targeted financial and defense sanctions linked to it. Its supportive role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Bidding and contract documents issued in April and May show that Chinese companies continued to send shipments to the China-Belarus Industrial Complex, a logistics hub outside Minsk, Belarus, which was set up as part of a strategic agreement between the two countries. China funds more than half of the companies in the park, according to data released in Chinese state media in May.
More bidding documents were released on May 20 by a subsidiary of the state-owned tech giant China Technology Group (CETC) to launch a $30 million project for a joint China-Belarus research laboratory that will study and test electromagnetic pulse (EMP) equipment – a technology with military applications. The project includes an 11,000-square-foot research base and a suite of EMP equipment.
CETC and its subsidiaries have already been placed on the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List, which restricts exports to listed companies, for their cooperation with the Chinese military.