China is playing an increasingly critical role in supplementing Russia’s war-torn economy and boosting its military capabilities, according to a new analysis by CNBC.
In 2022, total bilateral trade between Russia and China hit a record high of $190 billion, up 30% from 2021. 2023 is set to eclipse that figure, with total trade hitting $134 billion in the first seven months.
That is prompting concern from Western officials, who say the economic boost – and the trade of specific goods – is giving Moscow a helping hand in its war in Ukraine.
Beijing has so far resisted condemning the full-scale invasion, while insisting that its trade with Moscow constitutes “normal economic cooperation” that targets no “third party.”
Mark Cancian, a former U.S. Marine Corps colonel and a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said: “There’s no question that the Chinese authorities are aware of the trade flows. They’re large enough that they could not continue without the acquiescence of the Chinese government.”
An analysis of Russian customs documents filed as recently as August 2023 points to the continued supply of drones, helmets, vests and radios from China, providing a lifeline for President Vladimir Putin’s over 18-month war of attrition, and a lucrative avenue for Chinese companies.
The companies involved in the trade tend to be small exporters, Antonia Hmaidi from the Mercator Institute for China Studies told CNBC.
Joseph Webster, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, added: “Exporters in China who export to Russia are not going to receive penalties for doing so, so long as they don’t explicitly violate Western sanctions and don’t provoke additional tensions with the West.
“So long as they can keep these exports quiet, they seem to be at little risk of provoking the ire of the Communist Party.”
Watch the video above as CNBC investigates China’s hidden hand in Russia’s war.