China Insists It Won't Help Sustain Russia's War Against Ukraine

The Chinese government this week hit out on multiple fronts against sustained speculation, originating in the United States, that it was considering supplying Russia with military aid.

A string of denials came after national security adviser Jake Sullivan said over the weekend that Beijing would face consequences if it helped the Kremlin evade the West's economic sanctions.

U.S. intelligence disclosed to the Financial Times and others that Russia had requested assistance in the form of combat equipment and field rations. China—said to have responded positively to the appeals—subsequently denied the allegations.

"Some #US official alleged that #China would provide weapons for #Russia. This is a ludicrous suggestion and a humiliation to Russia. Unlike the U.S., China never adds fuel to the fire," China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson and Hua Chunying tweeted on Tuesday.

"If the #US really cared about the people of #Ukraine and promoted peace instead of delivering weapons & ammunition, the situation would have been much better," said Hua, who is the country's assistant foreign minister.

Protracted War

Vladimir Putin's protracted war against Ukraine has been met with logistics constraints and heavy losses, on top of a significant delay to the Kremlin's blitzkrieg-type objectives. The Pentagon estimates "75 percent of his total military" has been committed to the siege on Kyiv, a staggering statistic that adds important context to the 190,000 Russian troops who were arrayed along Ukraine's borders ahead of the full-scale invasion on February 24.

Around 90 percent of them are still involved in the fight, after factoring in those killed, wounded or captured, U.S. officials said. American intelligence estimates put Russia's combat losses at more than 7,000. Moscow's own number from March 2 remains unchanged at 498.

Qin Gang, China's top diplomat in Washington, said assertions about Beijing's prior knowledge of or support for Russia's war were "purely disinformation."

"Conflict between Russia and Ukraine does no good for China. Had China known about the imminent crisis, we would have tried our best to prevent it," the ambassador wrote in a March 15 Washington Post op-ed, the centerpiece of Beijing's new damage control campaign to balance its pro-Moscow complexion.

The following day, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian accused anonymous American officials of "spreading lies" about its alleged intent to materially aid Russia's deadly offensive. Earlier in the week, a similar message was delivered, albeit indirectly, to Kyiv.

Respect the Sovereign Government

At a March 14 meeting with regional officials in Ukraine's western city of Lviv, near the border with Poland, Chinese Ambassador Fan Xianrong declared his country would "never attack" Ukraine. Beijing would respect the choices of its sovereign government and help it rebuild, Fan said, before praising Ukrainian unity.

The remarks weren't reported by the Chinese Embassy in Kyiv or carried by state media outlets. Asked about Ambassador Fan's sit-down with officials in Lviv, spokesperson Zhao denied any knowledge of the event.

There is much China could do to help Russia without providing military aid, which is already a fading prospect if it wants to salvage its reputation as a responsible major power and permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Chinese officials like Zhao continue to back Moscow's grievances about the "negative impact of NATO's consecutive rounds of eastward expansion on Russia's security environment." For the past two weeks, he has also repeated Moscow's claims about the existence of U.S.-funded biological weapons in Ukraine.

China has refused to join sweeping sanctions against Russia, but there's no indication yet that it intends to help the Kremlin evade the worst of the economic punishment. In fact, Beijing openly opposed, but largely abided by, Western sanctions after Putin's annexation of Crimea in 2014. It also used the opportunity deepen Russia's economic dependence on China.

"We do not know yet in the open source what China has provided to Russia regarding military-related material assistance. But, in terms of the possibility of economic support, it is likely that China's major financial institutions with exposure to Western and other markets will adhere to sanction enforcement, at least when it comes to U.S. dollar transactions, out of fear of secondary sanctions," said Bryce Barros, a China analyst at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a think tank at the German Marshall Fund in Washington.

"However, I am not confident that Chinese financial institutions with less exposure to the West would be willing to enforce sanctions, especially if transactions are done in the [Chinese] yuan," he told Newsweek.

"Additionally, there has been speculation whether Russian financial institutions might start using China's UnionPay to facilitate transactions. Though that is a possibility, switching to UnionPay could carry risks for that brand when operating outside of the Russian and Chinese markets," he said.

China Insists Won't Help Russia's Ukraine War
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying attends a daily press conference in Beijing on February 24, 2022. Hua called speculation that China could supply Russia with military aid for its war against Ukraine a “ludicrous suggestion,” in a tweet posted on March 15, 2022. NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images