China may have increased exports of electronics and minerals with weapons applications to Russia since the beginning of Russia’s war with Ukraine, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation.
A complex network of independent companies and state-owned enterprises hide overall trading data, which may allow them to bypass U.S. sanctions against doing business with Russia, according to the WSJ. While Chinese officials say China is not sending weapons to Russia, the data suggests that Chinese commodities widely used for military purposes, like microchips and aluminum, are still arriving in Russia in droves.
“Our government and our national leadership has been very clear from February 24th on that China should not provide material, economic and military support for Russia in this war,” U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns told the WSJ.
An analysis of Chinese customs data showed that chip exports to Russia doubled to $50 million in May 2022 over the previous 12 months, and other commodities, including electronics, also increased, according to the WSJ. China exported aluminum oxide, which is used widely across aerospace and defense applications, at a volume 400 times greater than 2021.
However, overall trade rose 12% year-on-year in March after China rebuked Western sanctions against Russia, Reuters reported. China has become Russia’s largest importer of oil since the invasion, which may account for part of the rise in trade volume.
The Commerce Department told the WSJ that it had no indications that China was deliberately evading U.S. sanctions but would “not hesitate to employ our full legal and regulatory tools against parties that provide support to the Russian military.” It blacklisted five Chinese electronics companies accused of supporting Russia’s military in June.
We are denying Russia the technology and semiconductors that they need to conduct their military operation. We are specifically denying semiconductors, military equipment, avionics, aerospace, and the Ukrainians tell us it's working. pic.twitter.com/y1iPh5XTni
— Secretary Gina Raimondo (@SecRaimondo) May 26, 2022
Naomi Garcia, a researcher at independent conflict analysis organization C4ADS, traced exchanges between Russia and Poly Group subsidiaries, according to the report. Garcia identified 281 previously undisclosed transactions of “dual-use” goods, which can be used for civilian or military purposes, to Russian organizations in the defense sector between 2014 and 2022.
“Chinese state-owned conglomerates trade in sensitive technologies with Russia’s defense sector, including to companies involved in Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine,” Garcia said in a statement.
Garcia warned that China’s poor transparency on export data and state-directed corporate activity can obscure defense-applicable technology trading.
“Whether or not the PRC’s trade data environment is opaque by design, it ultimately conceals the networks of people and companies involved in the trade of military equipment and undermines global nonproliferation efforts,” she said.
C4ADS has not discovered any China Poly Group transactions after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Garcia told the WSJ.
China Poly Group and the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade could not be reached for comment. The U.S. Treasury Department, the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Russian Federation did not return requests for comment.
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