China has denied allegations by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken that it’s considering supplying weapons and ammunition to Russia.
However, China may already be providing Russian troops in Ukraine with military intelligence, and it has become an increasingly important trade partner for Russia.
Is China providing Russia with weapons?
China has been expanding its military production capabilities and is now the world’s fourth largest arms exporter.
“China’s weapons are getting more advanced now,” says Siemon Wezeman from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
“Its drones, for example, are one area that Russia would be very interested in.”
The US says Chinese firms have already provided “non-lethal support” to Russia, and that it has new information suggesting Beijing could provide “lethal support”.
Washington has warned that such an escalation would have “serious consequences” for China.
Maria Shagina, an expert in economic sanctions at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, says China has not overtly supplied Russia with weapons but may be secretly selling it hi-tech products which can be used for military purposes.
“There is… evidence that China is the biggest exporter of semiconductors – often through shell companies in Hong Kong and the UAE – to Russia,” she says.
“Some Chinese companies are also supplying civilian drones, exploiting the grey space between military and civilian purposes.”
The US-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies says Chinese companies may be sending Russia electronic parts for anti-aircraft missile radars.
The US has also imposed sanctions on a Chinese company which Washington says has provided satellite imagery in support of Russian mercenary forces fighting in Ukraine.
How has China been helping Russia economically?
After Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, Western nations imposed strict sanctions on Russia – banning imports of oil and exports of hi-tech products.
Many Western firms cut their connections with Russia entirely, and its trade with the US, UK, and EU countries slumped over the course of 2022.
However, China’s overall trade with Russia hit a record high level of $190bn in 2022 – a 30% increase on the year before.
Russian imports from China increased 13% to $76bn and its exports to China increased by 43% to $114bn.
As Russia’s trade with Western countries plunged in 2022, China became, by far and away, its most important trading partner.
How much oil and gas is China buying from Russia?
Russia exported twice as much liquid petroleum gas (LPG) to China in 2022 than it did the year before.
It delivered 50% more natural gas to China in 2022, via the Power of Siberia pipeline.
China also imported 10% more crude oil from Russia than it did in 2021.
This partly makes up for the amount of oil and gas sales to the EU that Russia lost last year.
It supplied 40% of EU gas imports 2021 but only 15% in 2022.
It also supplied 14% of EU oil imports in 2022, down from 26% in 2021.
Almost half of all the Russian government’s annual revenues come from oil and gas sales.
The G7 group of economically developed countries, along with the European Union and Australia, set a worldwide cap on the price of Russian oil transported by sea, to try and reduce the amount of money that the Kremlin can spend on the war.
However, China has refused to comply with the cap and buys Russian crude at market prices.
Russia is looking to expand its energy exports to China.
The two countries have agreed to build a new gas pipeline (the Power of Siberia 2). The existing one began operation in 2019, under a 30-year contract worth more than $400bn.
However, it’s not clear when the new gas pipeline from Siberia will come on stream.