The European Union is weighing sanctions on Chinese companies accused of providing help to Russia’s military in its invasion of Ukraine, diplomatic sources have confirmed.
Ambassadors from the bloc’s 27 member states will hold initial discussions on Wednesday on a fresh package of sanctions proposed by the European Commission.
Among proposed targets are eight private entities from China, six of which have headquarters in Hong Kong, in what would mark the first time the EU moved to sanction Chinese companies for abetting Russia’s military effort in Ukraine.
Previously, the EU had declined to follow the United States in sanctioning Chinese businesses for supplying the Russian war effort, noting that broadly speaking Beijing was “over complying” with EU sanctions and export controls.
The news was first reported by the Financial Times on Sunday, which named a group of electronics companies accused of selling chips and microelectronics that can be used in high-grade weaponry, such as cruise missiles.
Sanctions decisions require unanimity among all EU members, and it is unclear just how much support there would be for a move that would undoubtedly cause new fissures in the volatile EU-China relationship.
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A diplomat familiar with previous discussions said it was “always tough to get 27 on board for any sanctions”, and that it would be no different in this case.
The debate will take place as Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang visits Germany, France and Norway from May 8 to May 12, during which Beijing’s potential role in achieving peace in Ukraine will no doubt be discussed.
Four of the listed companies have already been sanctioned by the US: Chinese outfits 3HC Semiconductors and King-Pai Technology, and Hong Kong-based firms Sinno Electronics and Sigma Technology. The FT also listed Hong Kong entities Asia-Pacific Links, Tordan Industry and Alpha Trading Investments.
In the case of 3HC, the commission accused the chip maker of “attempting to evade export controls and acquiring or attempting to acquire US-origin items in support of Russia’s military and/or defence industrial base”, according to the FT.
US Treasury filings from last year accused Sinno Electronics – a distributor of electronic components – of “providing support to Russia’s military and/or defence industrial base and for continuing to contract to supply Russian entities, listed and sanctioned parties after Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine”.
Senior EU figures have long warned that providing military support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would be considered a “red line” in Brussels.
After a meeting with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi in February, his EU counterpart Josep Borrell said: “I expressed our strong concern about China providing arms to Russia. I asked him not to do that, and expressing not only our concern, but the fact that for us, it would be a red line in our relationship.”
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Former officials and lawmakers said the EU’s sanctioning of Iranian firms for providing drones and related equipment to be used on the battlefield in Ukraine provided a template for the bloc that could be extended to other countries, including China.
In October, the EU sanctioned three individuals and one entity in relation to the Russian use of Iranian drones in Ukraine.
“If there is evidence that China is systematically exporting by whatever means, be it munitions, weapons, or technical military support, which Russia is using in Ukraine, then I guess the pattern of behaviour from Europe should be the same as it was with Iran,” said Urmas Paet, the former Estonian foreign minister, now a centrist member of the European Parliament.
Radek Sikorski, Poland’s former defence and foreign minister, now a centre-right lawmaker in Brussels, suggested that more substantive Chinese military support would result in a consumer boycott in Europe.
“If China started supplying Russia with actual military hardware, like shells and military drones, and things that can mostly be used for waging war, I think not only would Western governments react, I think Western consumers would start asking themselves questions every time they consider buying a Chinese product,” Sikorski said.
Thus far, however, there is no evidence of systematic, direct military support being provided to Moscow. Low levels of goods with potential dual uses – such as hunting rifles – have been reported in the media, but nothing that would constitute full-scale backing. Furthermore, Beijing has denied that it has – or will – provide military support to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
“There needs to be a distinction made between a Chinese decision to sell lethal weaponry to Russia – this would be a very high level decision – and these data points that people are seeing about small numbers of rifles or things like this,” said William Klein, the former deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Beijing.
“I would be very careful, with the small consignments that people are talking about, to extrapolate that their strategic decision has been made to sell lethal weaponry to Russia.”
Source : SCMP