China supporting Russia in massive military expansion, US says

China is helping Russia undertake its biggest military expansion since Soviet times, ramping up sales of machine tools, microelectronics and other technology that Moscow is using to produce missiles, tanks, aircraft and other weaponry for its war against Ukraine, according to a US assessment.

US officials are hoping the release of the intelligence will encourage European allies to press China, as the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, heads to Beijing this weekend and G7 foreign ministers meet next week in Italy.

Announcing US findings, officials said China was helping Russia in the production of drones, space-based capabilities and machine-tool exports vital for producing ballistic missiles.

China has been the key factor in revitalising Russia’s defense industrial base, “which had otherwise suffered significant setbacks” since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

“Russia is undertaking its most ambitious defense expansion since the Soviet era and on a faster timeline than we believed possible early on in this conflict,” the official said.

“Our view is that one of the most gamechanging moves available to us at this time to support Ukraine is to persuade the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to stop helping Russia reconstitute its military industrial base,” the official said.

“Russia would struggle to sustain its war effort without PRC inputs,” he said.

US officials said that China provided more than 70% of the $900m (£723m) in machine tools – probably used to build ballistic missiles – imported in the last quarter of 2023 by Russia.

They also said that 90% of Russia’s microelectronics imports – used to produce missiles, tanks and aircraft – came from China last year.

The US has repeatedly warned China against supporting Russia and both Chinese and US officials say Beijing has stopped short of directly providing weapons to Russia, which has turned to heavily sanctioned North Korea and Iran to replenish its arms supply.

US officials believe that China, anxious after its Russian allies’ early setbacks on the battlefield, has instead focused on sending material that ostensibly has non-military uses.

President Joe Biden’s administration is hoping that European powers can make the difference with China, which is facing economic headwinds and is sensitive about trade pressure.

The secretary of state, Antony Blinken, is expected to make the case on China’s ties with Russia as he meets top diplomats of other industrial democracies at the G7 talks in Capri, Italy.

Blinken is also planning a visit in the coming weeks to China, on the heels of a trip by the treasury secretary, Janet Yellen.

The administration hopes that such dialogue, including a recent telephone call between Biden and the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, can help contain tensions between the world’s two largest economies but US officials have stressed they will still press on concerns.

The deputy secretary of state, Kurt Campbell, said this week that Europe’s stability was the top interest historically of the US and that it would hold China accountable if Russia makes gains.

Also on Friday, the US and UK prohibited metal-trading exchanges from accepting new aluminium, copper and nickel produced by Russia and barred the import of the metals in the latest effort to disrupt Russian export revenue.

The US treasury department said Friday’s action would prohibit the London Metal Exchange and Chicago Mercantile Exchange from accepting new Russian production of aluminium, copper and nickel.

“Metal exchanges provide a central role in facilitating the trading of industrial metals around the globe,” the treasury department said in a statement.


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