China likely to be Russia's best hope to blunt sanctions, but wary: Report
China’s multibillion-dollar purchases of Russian gas for its energy-hungry economy have been a lifeline for Putin
China is the only major government not to have condemned the invasion
Chinese trade with Russia rose to $146.9 billion last year
China is likely to be the only friend that might help Russia blunt the impact of economic sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, but President Xi Jinping’s government is giving no sign it might be willing to risk its own access to US and European markets by doing too much.
Even if Beijing wanted to, its ability to support President Vladimir Putin by importing more Russian gas and other goods is limited, according to news agency The Associated Press.
Relations with Moscow have warmed since Xi took power in 2012, motivated by shared resentment of Washington, but their interests can conflict. While their militaries hold joint exercises, Putin is uneasy about the growing Chinese economic presence in Central Asia and Russia’s Far East.
“China-Russia relations are at the highest level in history, but the two countries are not an alliance,” said Li Xin, an international relations expert at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.
In response to the invasion, Washington, Britain, the 27-nation European Union and other Western allies have announced or promised sanctions against Russian banks, officials, business leaders and companies, as well as export controls aimed at starving Russia’s industries and military of high-tech products.
Xi’s government might support Putin within those limits — and Chinese companies might use the situation to pursue better deals — but will balk at openly violating sanctions and being targeted for penalties, experts said.
“China doesn’t want to get so involved that it ends up suffering as a result of its support for Russia,” said Mark Williams, chief Asia economist for Capital Economics.
Chinese trade with Russia rose to $146.9 billion last year, but that is less than one-tenth of China’s total $1.6 trillion in trade with the United States and EU.
“It all hinges on whether they’re willing to risk their access to Western markets to help Russia, and I don’t think they are,” said Williams. “It’s just not that big a market.”
China, the world’s second-largest economy, is the only major government not to have condemned the invasion.
“The degree of Chinese support Russia receives is likely to prove a crucial factor in how well it can weather the long-term consequences,” wrote Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister and president of the Asia Society, on the Asia Society website.
China’s multibillion-dollar purchases of Russian gas for its energy-hungry economy have been a lifeline for Putin following trade and financial sanctions imposed in 2014 over his seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.