In recent months, the US administration of President Joe Biden has gradually expanded the so-called “Entity List”, i.e. the list of companies affected by restrictions by the US government because they are allegedly providing assistance to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There are several Chinese companies on this list, and some of these have played a significant role in providing aid to the invading Russian forces, even if not of a military nature.
The United States accuses China of providing material and economic support to Russia in the war in Ukraine, and various American officials are expressing concern that more and more Chinese companies are trying to circumvent sanctions to collaborate with Russia. However, there is some debate in the US government both about the extent of this support and whether or not the Chinese government is directly involved.
For this reason, the US authorities have recently sought a direct confrontation with the Chinese authorities, opening a dialogue on this issue through diplomatic channels. “We will continue to communicate to China the implications of providing material support to Russia’s war against Ukraine,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House spokeswoman a few days ago.
The position of the Chinese government in the war in Ukraine is complex and ambiguous and has often been misrepresented in the West. China has certainly helped the Russian economy by replacing the West as a preferred trading partner, especially when it comes to the purchase of hydrocarbons, but the Chinese government claims that all its trade is perfectly within the limit of Western sanctions.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has never condemned the Russian attack, but he also expressed China’s doubts and misgivings about the invasion of Ukraine to Russian President Vladimir Putin. China has also offered itself as a mediator, so far with limited success.
Under the official position of the Chinese government, however, there is an immense country, over which the state and party authorities do not always have strict control. Also for this reason it is difficult to determine the nature of Chinese support for Russia, since the traffics that for some represent tangible proof of alleged Chinese backing for others can instead be explained by the lack of capillary control through a wide range of Chinese industries, whose purpose is simply to sell their products.
Just at the end of January, a case of this type emerged when, a few days after the revelations in the US media, the Biden administration approved new sanctions against the network of companies and individuals trusted by the Wagner group, a Russian paramilitary company that he is participating in the invasion of Ukraine. Among these institutions there is also a Chinese one.
The company in question, known as Spacety and also active in Europe, deals with high-definition satellite images and according to the United States it would have provided photographic information on some locations in Ukraine to a technology company based in Russia. “These images were collected to enable Wagner’s combat operations in Ukraine,” the Treasury Department said, placing Spacety on a blacklist of companies prohibited from doing business with in the United States.
Founded just in 2016, Spacety describes itself as a privately owned and rapidly growing company. However, the company operates in a sector where the presence of the Chinese government is substantial and the CEO of the same startup is a member of a group of experts that collaborates with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology. However, the Treasury Department did not provide information on how much it knows about Spacety’s commercial activities, which denies that its products are used for military purposes.
It is not the first time that the United States has imposed sanctions on Chinese companies accused of providing support to the Russian invasion. Last June, four Chinese companies and one Hong Kong-based company were already blacklisted for continuing to supply technologies to Russia’s military and military industry even after the invasion of Ukraine began. On that occasion, the US authorities had said that the five companies had carried out activities “contrary to the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States”.
For now, it appears that the United States wants to address these situations by ramping up dialogue with China, but many concerns remain. A few days ago a Washington research center published a study according to which Chinese technologies for military use have not stopped being sold to Russia. China and Hong Kong have also become major suppliers to Russia of technological components such as microchips, although it is unclear whether or not they are used by the Russians for military purposes.