The United States has recently claimed that China is considering providing lethal support to Russia in its ongoing conflict with Ukraine. Although Beijing has denied the allegation, experts believe that if China did provide support, it could have significant implications for the conflict.
Since the start of the conflict, China has provided diplomatic and financial support to Russia but has refrained from direct military involvement. Chinese state-controlled firms have sold non-lethal equipment to both Russia and Ukraine, but Moscow has had to turn to Iran for more substantial supplies such as unmanned aerial vehicles, while North Korea has provided rockets and artillery shells.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently suggested that China is now considering providing lethal support to Russia, although he did not provide any evidence to support this claim. Some experts believe that the US would only make such a claim if it had robust intelligence to back it up.
Russia has struggled to muster the necessary personnel, munitions, and weapons to overpower Ukrainian resistance. As the conflict continues, each side is scrambling for resources and strategic gains, leading to an inflection point in the conflict. Against this backdrop, Chinese weapons would be a “game-changer,” according to Mick Ryan, a strategist and retired Australian Army major general. With Chinese munitions, Ukraine’s advantage due to the industrial capacity of the West would instantly disappear, and Russia would have an edge in the conflict.
Despite China’s denial, many experts believe that there are compelling reasons for China to get involved in the conflict. Some see Ukraine as a Cold War-style proxy conflict, and a Chinese decision to export weapons to Russia would be a “huge step” that risks Western sanctions, burns remaining bridges with Washington, and damages ties with Europe. However, some experts believe that the prospect of a Russian defeat is equally worrying for China.
Russia is the only major power that supports China, and if it loses the conflict, China would be left alone. On the other hand, a Russian victory would be seen as inflicting a strategic defeat on the United States, which would help resuscitate President Xi Jinping’s narrative that the West is in decline. China may try to thread the needle between risk and reward in Ukraine by supplying weapons via state-controlled companies, North Korea, or to the Wagner Group rather than directly to Russian military regulars.
In summary, while the allegations of Chinese lethal support for Russia remain unproven, the possibility of such support highlights the complexity of the conflict in Ukraine and the shifting geopolitical dynamics of the region.