A thousand CQ-A rifles and other military equipment has been sent to Russia by Chinese companies, including one with direct ties to Beijing, according to customs data obtained by Politico. EU leaders worry this might only be the beginning, saying the move should not go unanswered.
Apart from the rifles, the shipments that were sent between June and December last year include dozens of tons of drone parts and body armor produced by several Chinese defense industry giants, as well as navigation equipment, vehicle components, and raw materials.
According to the shipping manifests, the rifles were sent by NORINCO (China North Industries Group Corporation Limited), one of China’s largest state-owned defense contractors. The CQ-A rifles were reportedly tagged as “civilian hunting rifles” to avoid scrutiny, but are well-known for their military use in the armed forces of several countries, including the Philippines, Sudan, and Paraguay.
While there is still no evidence that Beijing would directly aid the Russian war effort, it reveals China does steadily supply Russian companies with previously unreported ‘dual-use’ equipment, meaning commercial items that most likely end up being used on the Ukrainian battlefield.
This revelation only confirms what U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other officials have been warning about, namely that China considers becoming a silent partner of Russia in the war against Ukraine by sending “lethal support”, meaning weapons and ammunition, to its northern neighbor.
“We’ve seen already over these past months the provision of nonlethal assistance that does go directly to aiding and abetting Russia’s war effort,” Blinken said in late February. “And some further information that we are sharing today, and that I think will be out there soon, that indicates that they are strongly considering providing lethal assistance to Russia.”
In response, many European leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, remarked that any lethal aid supplied to Russia would be met with dire consequences on behalf of the West, hoping the verbal deterrence would be enough to keep China at bay. It appears that ship has sailed, and now EU leaders are fuming.
Representatives of the European Parliament, for instance, see this development as a serious escalation, warning China of imminent consequences. As Reinhard Bütikofer, chair of the Parliament’s China delegation said:
Any material support for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine from the Chinese side would be a development of an extremely serious nature. China cannot be in doubt about that. There would be very relevant consequences. Information to that effect must therefore be checked with a maximum of care … Troubling intelligence should be shared with the responsible parliamentary bodies and be made transparent for the public. Being caught red-handed would certainly deal a severe blow to China’s international standing. Beijing has been warned.
Commenting on the uncovered arms shipments, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis also underlined the Baltic countries’ hawkish stance. “We should not accept the alliances aimed against European security,” he said. “It should not be left without consequences.”
Others, such as Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský, expressed disappointment with China being in “clear and brutal breach” of the UN Charter—all while sitting at the UN Security Council table. “Nobody, including China, should bolster the Russian aggressor—be it politically or materially,” Lipavský added.
Of course, these arms shipments constitute just “a drop in the sea,” as one unnamed Eastern European security official said, but once it began, China could easily ramp up its weapons supplies to Russia. What is important, he said, is “the fact they [China] did it, that they are willing to allow this to happen.”