China is providing geospatial intelligence to Russia, US warns

WASHINGTON – The US is warning allies that China has stepped up its support for Russia, including by providing geospatial intelligence, to help Moscow in its war against Ukraine.

Amid signs of continued military integration between the two nations, China has provided Russia with satellite imagery for military purposes, as well as microelectronics and machine tools for tanks, according to people familiar with the matter.

China’s support also includes optics, propellants to be used in missiles and increased space cooperation, one of the people said.

Spokespeople for the White House National Security Council declined to comment.

China’s foreign ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment during a holiday weekend.

Beijing has sought to portray itself as mostly neutral in the face of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, now into its third year, yet it’s established a deep alliance with Moscow as part of what Mr Xi Jinping and Mr Vladimir Putin termed a “no limits” friendship ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.

Trade between the two countries reached a record US$240 billion (S$324 billion) in 2023.

Russia’s neighbour has become the supplier of everything from clothes to machinery and cars after an exodus of Western manufacturers and multiple rounds of sanctions.

At the same time, Russia has boosted exports of commodities such as coal and oil to China.

Crucially, China and Hong Kong have also become key gateways for Moscow to access restricted technologies, including chips and integrated circuits, used in weapons or needed to build them.

The US and European Union have listed several Chinese firms for enabling those transfers, but the trade shows little sign of dropping off.

In 2023, the Biden administration also sanctioned a Chinese company for providing satellite images to a Russian technology firm, which in turn then supplied them to the Wagner mercenary group.

Beijing has also yet to indicate whether it will participate in a summit Ukraine has been organising to agree on key principles upon which to build a future peace settlement with Russia.

China’s support for Russia has deepened in recent months, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private matters.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken briefed European allies this week on the scope and significance of China’s support and on the need to do more to curtail it, one of the people said.

The Financial Times first reported some of the messages communicated by Mr Blinken at meetings with Nato allies.

The US and its allies will be looking to convey their concerns to Beijing and to ramp up efforts to crack down on China’s support for Russia’s defense industry, the people said.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also warned of “significant consequences” this week if companies, including those in China, were found to provide material support for Russia’s war against Ukraine and its military-industrial base.

The worries come as Ukraine faces a critical artillery shortage and its allies are flailing in their efforts to resupply Kyiv.

Russia, meanwhile, has been able to boost its domestic arms production, continues to import key components via a network of third countries, and is getting shells and other weaponry from the likes of North Korea and Iran.

The Biden administration previously warned Beijing not to provide Russia with weapons, and there’s no sign it has so far done so.

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