British defence minister says China plans to provide Russia with ‘lethal aid’ for Ukraine war

Britain has evidence that China is planning to provide Russia with “lethal aid” to use in its war in Ukraine, the UK defence secretary said on Wednesday.

According to several media accounts, Grant Shapps told the London Defence Conference that US and British military intelligence had “evidence Russia and China are collaborating on combat equipment for use in Ukraine”.

“Lethal aid is now, or will be, flowing from China to Russia and into Ukraine,” which he called “a significant development”.

It marks the first time a European power has accused China of crossing what has been repeatedly described in Brussels as a “red line” in its relations with Beijing, and appears to have prompted US President Joe Biden’s top security adviser to ask for clarification.

The West has previously sounded the alarm about the increased intensity of Sino-Russian trade in goods which have dual civilian and military goods. Both Britain and the European Union have added Chinese companies to blacklists of firms accused of circumventing Western sanctions against Moscow.

Local resident at a site of a Russian air strike on Kharkiv, Ukraine on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

But the suggestion by Shapps that China would provide Russia with lethal weapons has the potential to further upend Beijing’s ties with Europe at an already fragile moment.

Asked about the British minister’s comments in a regular White House briefing, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said: “We have not seen [a plan to deliver lethal aid] to date.”

“I look forward to speaking with the UK to make sure that we have a common operating picture. We have had one. We’ve been on the same page. I just want to understand better what exactly that comment was referring to,” Sullivan said.

“What I would point out is that just recently, we have been articulating, in quite urgent terms our concerns about what China is doing to fuel Russia’s war machine; not giving weapons directly, but providing inputs to Russia’s defence industrial base,” he added. “We’ve taken action to deal with that in a concerted way with our allies and partners and you can expect more of that action in the period ahead.”

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House on Wednesday. Photo: AP

The Chinese Mission to the UK did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As China’s relationship with Russia has blossomed, its ties with Europe have suffered. While it claims to be neutral in the war, it is broadly seen to have sided with Moscow and has resisted pressure from the West to condemn Putin’s actions.

“China is not neutral as regards Russia’s war against Ukraine. It provides a lifeline to Russia’s economy, and in particular to its defence industry with its massive critical dual-use goods exports, supporting the war effort,” said Gunnar Wiegand, the EU’s former top diplomat on Asia-Pacific.

“Beijing will have to make a choice: either it continues helping Russia’s war effort and will increasingly face consequences, or it curbs its non-lethal support to Russia’s defence industry and contributes in this way to end the war in Ukraine,” said Wiegand, now a distinguished visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the US.

“This is now a matter of European security.”

On a state visit to France this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping was warned by French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen not to cross the line of directly arming Russia.



Xi welcomes ‘old friend’ Putin to Beijing, affirms strength of China-Russia bond

Xi welcomes ‘old friend’ Putin to Beijing, affirms strength of China-Russia bond

Following meetings in Paris, Macron welcomed China’s “commitment” not to sell arms to Russia and to control the flow of dual-use goods to the Russian military, on the first day of Xi’s six-day tour of Europe.

Von der Leyen said that “we have also discussed China’s commitment not to provide any lethal equipment to Russia”.

“We count on China to use all its influence on Russia to end Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” von der Leyen said.

The EU did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Shapps’ disclosure.

Last week, Xi welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin to Beijing, and their meeting delivered a 12,000 word joint communique that pledged to “strengthen coordination and cooperation to deal with the so-called dual containment policy of the United States that is non-constructive and hostile towards China and Russia”.

According to an official Chinese statement, Xi discussed “unprecedented shifts” in the global geopolitical landscape with Putin, claiming the world had entered “a new period of turbulence and change”.

Putin and Xi are set to meet again in July in Kazakhstan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a meeting with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Monday, according to the Russian Interfax news agency.

Additional reporting by Robert Delaney in Washington



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