China is considering sending weapons, ammunition and drones to Russia, according to information the Biden administration declassified at the end of February 2023.
China’s military aid would directly support Russia’s war in Ukraine.
This public disclosure, emerging less than a month after the U.S. navy shot down a Chinese balloon that allegedly was being used for spying purposes, further heightened existing tensions between the U.S. and China.
It also comes as Russia is facing mounting costs in its war on Ukraine – both financial and in human lives.
These setbacks have pushed Russia to seek help where the government can find it.
Russia has tried to secure weapons and other military support from allies such as North Korea and neighboring country Belarus. Russia has also turned to neutral countries like India and China to whom it can sell its oil and gas and bring in more money.
China has not publicly announced a decision to give military aid to Russia.
I am a scholar of international relations whose work focuses on the increasing competition between the U.S. and China. Based on my research, I’m certain Russia would welcome any assistance China would offer. China’s decision about whether to get involved in the Ukraine war will be carefully calculated, factoring in potential long-term benefits, risks and the influence of Western powers.
But I think that China’s choice in supporting Russia or not chiefly comes down to two considerations: how the Ukraine conflict will affect China’s overall growth in world politics, and its interest in invading Taiwan.
Massive military aid to a struggling army is not cheap. The U.S. spent over US$75 billion on aid to Ukraine in 2022. But despite the costs of war, China is considering supplying Russia military hardware for a few reasons.
Economically, China’s interests in Russia include money, energy and trade opportunities.
During the Cold War, the U.S. successfully drove a wedge between the two countries. However, after the Cold War, Russia and China grew closer and became economically interconnected.
Since Russia first launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, China has appeared to maintain a “pro-Russia” neutrality.
Russian success in Ukraine would align with China’s goals of reshaping global politics and power, and could help facilitate China’s own rise as an economic and military leader.
Yet a prolonged Russia-Ukraine war may present a new kind of opportunity for China in Taiwan by diverting U.S. money, military resources and attention away from the island.
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang argued on March 7, 2023, that because the U.S. sells weapons to Taiwan, this justifies China selling weapons to Russia.
Some critics have noted that U.S. aid to Ukraine makes it harder for the U.S. to justify defending Taiwan if China attempts to overtake it.
While China invading Taiwan appears unlikely in the short term – and some experts say such a move would be disastrous for China – both the U.S. and China have a vested interest in the fate of Taiwan and the surrounding region.
Given that China has not yet officially stepped forward to support Russia, these efforts appear successful.