China’s significant role in supporting Russia’s crippled economy and bolstering its military capabilities is raising concerns among Western officials, according to CNBC’s analysis. Bilateral trade between the two countries reached a record high of $190 billion in 2022, up 30% from the previous year, and is projected to exceed that figure in 2023, with $134 billion already traded in the first seven months alone. This economic boost and the exchange of specific goods are seen as aiding Moscow’s war efforts in Ukraine. Chinese officials argue that their trade with Russia is just “normal economic cooperation.”
The generous trade flows between China and Russia, which have the blessing of the Chinese government, are helping to sustain President Putin’s 18-month-long war of attrition. Russian customs documents from August 2023 indicate that China is still supplying crucial military equipment such as drones, helmets, vests, and radios. This trade provides a lifeline for Putin and lucrative opportunities for Chinese companies, mostly small exporters. Exports from China to Russia are not penalized as long as they do not explicitly violate Western sanctions or create additional tensions with the West, allowing the exporters to avoid provoking the ire of the Communist Party.
As China continues to support Russia’s economy and military endeavors, Western officials grow increasingly uneasy about Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. The Chinese government is aware of the substantial trade flows and has not condemned Russia’s invasion, claiming it is part of normal economic cooperation. This close alliance between China and Russia not only strengthens their economic ties but also has geopolitical implications, potentially challenging the dominance of Western powers. As the trade relationship intensifies, the international community watches closely to determine the consequences and implications of this dynamic partnership.