US confronts China over companies' ties to Russian war effort in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. FILE/AP.

Washington: The US has confronted China with evidence that suggests some Chinese state-owned companies may be providing assistance to Russia in its war effort against Ukraine and is also ascertaining if Beijing is aware of those activities, according to a report.

According to a Bloomberg report, anonymous people familiar with the matter, refused to give details of the support but said that it consists of non-lethal military and economic assistance that stops short of wholesale evasion of the sanctions regime the US and its allies imposed after Russian forces invaded Ukraine.

The trend is so concerning that US officials have brought it up with their Chinese colleagues and warned them about the repercussions of providing material support for the conflict, added the report.

While President Xi Jinping has refrained from criticising Russia on the conflict, he has offered to participate in peace negotiations and spoken out against the use of nuclear weapons.

While the information isn’t clear-cut and remains the subject of debate, US officials told Bloomberg that they agree the Russia-China relationship is extremely close now and China is doing more than it once did in support of Russia.

The people familiar with the administration’s thinking characterised the state-owned enterprises’ activities as knowingly assisting Russia in its war effort.

Washington is still reviewing the evidence to determine its significance.

A finding that Chinese companies were supporting the invasion would have troubling implications on US policy toward both Russia and China, claims the report.

The US approach for Ukraine is based in part on attempting to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government, choke off his economy, and obstruct the military effort. Increased backing from China, the second-largest economy in the world, may seriously undermine that plan.

And if Biden and his advisers determined China’s government was involved in, or tacitly accepted, the actions of those state-owned enterprises, they would be forced to decide how much to push back, the report added.

That could risk worsening a dispute when the Biden administration is trying to balance stabilised ties with Beijing as it moves to limit Chinese access to high-end microchips and to confront China over its posture toward Taiwan, the report further added.

Prior to the conflict, China and Russia made a “no limits” agreement, and US officials think Beijing initially meant to provide Russia lethal weapons for use on the front lines. According to the people, the administration believes China has dialled back that strategy and contends that it is not contributing as much as it could to Putin’s invasion.

China on principle rejects any sanctions apart from those agreed at the United Nations, and sees US calls on other countries to restrict trade as a violation of sovereignty.

China’s imports from Russia increased almost 50 per cent in 2022 from the year before, while exports rose 13 per cent.

“Now, what you hear from Beijing is that it claims to be neutral,” Blinken had said. “I would start with the proposition that it’s pretty hard to be neutral when it comes to this aggression.

“There is a clear aggressor. There is a clear victim,” the Secretary of State had said.

With inputs from agencies

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