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Blinken to warn China over weapons-related exports to Russia

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US secretary of state Antony Blinken will warn China that Washington will take punitive steps unless Beijing stops sending weapons-related technology to Russia.

During a visit to China next week, Blinken will tell his counterparts that the US and its allies are becoming increasingly impatient with Beijing’s refusal to stop providing Moscow with everything from chips to cruise missile engines to help rebuild its industrial base.

Blinken does not plan to reveal what measures the US will take, but several people familiar with the situation said it is considering sanctions on Chinese financial institutions and other entities.

One person said his message would be the clearest warning yet that the US had delivered in person to Chinese officials.

The US has in recent weeks stepped up its warnings about the situation, including in meetings with European and G7 allies.

In an interview, deputy secretary of state Kurt Campbell said China was undermining European security by supplying Russia with dual-use technologies at the same time as trying to develop closer economic and political ties with Europe.

“What we’ve tried to underscore with European and Chinese interlocutors is that these dual objectives are inconsistent, and that we want China to think very carefully about the way forward,” he said.

Campbell said the US was being “very direct” about its concerns and would “hold China accountable” for its actions.

Blinken will visit China from April 24 to 26 and hold meetings in Shanghai and Beijing. Campbell said Blinken would raise the issue with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi.

One US official said that other G7 members had told Washington that they had, or would, raise the issue with China after a meeting of G7 foreign ministers in Capri this week where Blinken discussed the matter.

One person said China had become increasingly concerned about the possibility of sanctions on its banks. President Joe Biden issued an executive order in December warning foreign financial institutions that they “risk losing access to the US financial system if they facilitate significant transactions relating to Russia’s military industrial base”.  

“China has been worried for some time that the US might increase sanctions on China, particularly in the banking arena, because of its support to Russia during the war,” said Dennis Wilder, a former CIA China analyst now at Georgetown University.

Four top Chinese lenders selectively stopped accepting payments from Russia last month, according to Russian media reports, particularly in relation to transactions for critical electronic components.

The US state department declined to comment.

Treasury secretary Janet Yellen raised the issue during a visit to China this month, but Blinken intends to press the matter in stronger terms. Biden voiced concern to Chinese President Xi Jinping when the leaders spoke by telephone three weeks ago.

Campbell said it was “too early to say whether China is re-evaluating its stance and its position with respect to Russia and the war in Ukraine” following the spate of warnings from Washington.

While the US hopes the threat of punitive measures will persuade China to change course, it is also urging European countries to take action. The US believes European pressure is critical since China is worried about the impact on its economic relations with Europe as its own economy slows.

One person familiar with the deliberations said Europe had imposed sanctions on only three Chinese groups since the start of the Russian invasion two years ago, in comparison with 100 such actions against Chinese entities by Washington.

Senior US officials last week released a list of technologies that they said China was sending to Russia.

In 2023, they said, 90 per cent of the chips that Russia imported came from China and were being used to produce missiles, tanks and aircraft. They said 70 per cent of Russian machine tools imports in the final quarter of last year were from China and were “likely used” to produce ballistic missiles.

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