US says China helping Moscow in biggest defence expansion since Soviet era

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WASHINGTON: China is helping Russia undertake its biggest military expansion since Soviet times, US officials said Friday (Apr 12), stepping up public pressure as concerns rise over Ukraine.

US officials are hoping the release of the intelligence will encourage European allies to press China, as Chancellor Olaf Scholz heads to Beijing this weekend and Group of Seven foreign ministers meet next week in Italy.

Unveiling US findings, officials said China was helping Russia on a range of areas including the joint production of drones, space-based capabilities and machine-tool exports vital for producing ballistic missiles.

China has been the key factor in revitalising Russia's defence industrial base "which had otherwise suffered significant setbacks" since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

"Russia is undertaking its most ambitious defence expansion since the Soviet era and on a faster timeline than we believed possible early on in this conflict," the official said.

"Our view is that one of the most game-changing moves available to us at this time to support Ukraine is to persuade the PRC to stop helping Russia reconstitute its military-industrial base," the official said, referring to the People's Republic of China.

"Russia would struggle to sustain its war effort without PRC inputs," he said.

US officials said that China provided more than 70 per cent of the US$900 million in machine tools - likely used to build ballistic missiles - imported in the last quarter of 2023 by Russia.

US officials also said that 90 per cent of Russia's microelectronics imports - used to produce missiles, tanks and aircraft - came from China last year.

CHINA WALKS FINE LINE

The United States has repeatedly warned China against supporting Russia and both Chinese and US officials say Beijing has stopped short of directly providing weapons to Russia, which has turned to heavily sanctioned North Korea and Iran to replenish arms supply.

US officials believe that China, anxious after its Russian allies' early setbacks on the battlefield, has instead focused on sending material that ostensibly has non-military uses.

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