While China proposes Peace Plan in Ukraine, it Begins to Arm Russia with Drones
Russia is in talks with a Chinese manufacturer about buying 100 military drones, with a delivery date of April, German press reported on Friday.
The report came as Bejing put forward a twelve-point peace plan for Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – which includes a call for an urgent ceasefire and peace talks. The proposal was met with scepticism by Kyiv and its allies in the West.
In recent days, the United States, Germany and other Western countries have warned China not to sell weapons to Russia for its war against Ukraine, saying that any such move would have severe consequences.
Russia, hemmed in by tough Western sanctions imposed in response to its attack on Ukraine, is believed to have bought weaponry from Iran and North Korea, including ‘kamikaze’ drones from the former. China has so far stood aside.
But German magazine Der Spiegel reported Friday that Chinese drone manufacturer Xian Bingo Intelligent Aviation Technology had said it was prepared to make 100 prototypes of its ZT-180 drone, which the magazine said could carry a 35-50kg warhead. Der Spiegel did not cite specific sources.
China’s support for Russia has been largely rhetorical and political. Beijing has helped to prevent efforts to condemn Moscow at the United Nations after signing a ‘no limits’ friendship agreement weeks before the invasion began.
There is no public evidence it is currently supplying arms to Russia.
However, the US has said China is providing non-lethal support already and may do more. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the United States has long been concerned that China would provide weapons to Russia.
‘We have information that gives us concern that they are considering providing lethal support to Russia,’ Blinken said last week in Munich. He said he had expressed to the Chinese envoy to the meeting, Wang Yi, that ‘this would be a serious problem.’
China has called the allegation that it is considering sending weapons to Russia a ‘smear’ and said it lacks evidence. It has insisted it is a neutral party in the conflict, and has pointed the finger at the US and NATO for fanning the flames.
But Ukraine has questioned China’s neutrality.
Speaking after the paper’s release on Friday, a representative from the Ukrainian embassy in China said: ‘If it is neutral, then China should talk to both sides… And now, we see the Chinese side mostly talks to Russia but not with Ukraine.’
On the Chinese drone, Der Spiegel said it was similar to Iran’s Shaheed-136 suicide drone, with which Russia has launched countless attacks on Ukraine wreaking havoc across the country – claiming hundreds of lives and damaging civilian infrastructure.
The magazine also said Bingo had plans to help establish a production site for the drone in Russia, where up to 100 aircraft could be made a month.
It added that there had been earlier plans for a company controlled by the Chinese army to send Russia spare parts for its SU-27 warplane.
Bingo did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
The company was founded in 2017 by Ma Jingdong, a graduate of China’s Northwestern Polytechnical University.
Its drones have been used by the likes of China’s electricity network operator State Grid to carry out environmental monitoring work, according to posts on its official WeChat account.
In November 2018, Bingo said it had signed a strategic cooperation agreement with an online platform established by Poly Technology Defense Investment.
The firm is a unit of state-owned China Poly Group which aims to support military trade and research into military equipment.
A procurement document published by the government of China’s farwestern Xinjiang region in August 2021 said drones developed by Bingo had been used in military exercises and described their technical strength as ‘first class’.
Released on Friday as Putin’s invasion entered its second year, China’s proposal calls for a cease-fire and peace talks, and an end to sanctions against Russia.
China placed responsibility for sanctions on other ‘relevant countries’ without naming them. These countries, it says, ‘should stop abusing unilateral sanctions’ and ‘do their share in de-escalating the Ukraine crisis.’
Many of the 12 points were very general and did not contain specific proposals.
Without mentioning either Russia or Ukraine, it says sovereignty of all countries should be upheld. It didn’t specify what that would look like for Ukraine, and the land taken from it since Russia seized Crimea in 2014.
The proposal also condemns a ‘Cold War mentality,’ a term that often refers to the United States and the U.S.-European military alliance NATO. ‘The security of a region should not be achieved by strengthening or expanding military blocs,’ the proposal says. Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded a promise that Ukraine will not join the bloc before the invasion.
Other points call for a cease-fire, peace talks, protection for prisoners of war and stopping attacks on civilians, without elaborating, as well as keeping nuclear power plants safe and facilitating grain exports.
‘The basic tone and the fundamental message in the policy is quite pro-Russia,’ said Li Mingjiang, a professor of Chinese foreign policy and international security at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.
At the Munich security conference last week, Blinken expressed scepticism about Beijing’s position before the twelve-point plan was even released.
This scepticism was echoed on Friday by European officials.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reacted reservedly to the Chinese proposal, saying Beijing did not have a lot of credibility as a mediator.
‘China doesn’t have much credibility because they have not been able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine,’ he told reporters in Tallinn, adding Beijing had signed an agreement with Putin only days before the invasion.
Stoltenberg also said that while there was no evidence so far that China has supplied weapons to Russia, there were signs that it might.
‘We have not seen actual delivery of lethal aid, but what we have seen are signs and indications that China may be planning and considering the supply of military aid to Russia, he said, adding: ‘China should not do that.’
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said China had not shared a peace plan – just a series of principles.
‘You have to see them against a specific backdrop, and that is the backdrop that China has already taken sides by signing, for example, an unlimited friendship [treaty] right before the invasion,’ she noted.
‘So we will look at the principles, of course, but we will look at them against the backdrop that China has taken sides,’ she added.
Jorge Toledo, the European Union’s ambassador to China, said Beijing had ‘a special responsibility’ to uphold the goals and values of the United Nations, especially when it came to war and peace.
‘Whether this is compatible with neutrality, I’m not sure – it depends on what neutrality means,’ he added.