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China is providing satellite intelligence for military purposes to Russia, US warns, says report

Cameron Manley   

China is providing satellite intelligence  for military purposes to Russia, US warns, says report
  • The US has warned its allies that China is providing geospatial intelligence to Russia.
  • China and Russia have grown closer in recent years after declaring a 'no limits' friendship in 2022.

The US has warned its allies of China's growing technological assistance to Russia's war effort against Ukraine.

As the two countries' military collaboration strengthens, China is providing Russia with geospatial satellite imagery for military use.

The news comes a month after a report by the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) warned that Russia was increasing its cooperation with China in 5G and satellite technology.

Geospatial intelligence integrates data from a network of technologies, ranging from satellites to mobile sensors, ground-control stations, and aerial images. The data is then used to produce real-time maps and simulations to help identify military threats, according to the European Union Satellite Centre.

China's assistance also includes support microelectronics and machine tools for tank production, optics, missile fuels, and greater space cooperation, according to sources familiar with the matter interviewed by Bloomberg.

Satellite imagery has played a critical role for both sides of the war in Ukraine.

In October 2022, Russia said commercial satellites used by the United States to assist Ukraine in its war against Russia were "legitimate" targets for attacks.

Private assets like Elon Musk's Starlink satellite terminals and Maxar and Planet Labs earth observation satellites have proven critical in keeping Ukrainians online.

In recent months, however, Ukraine has criticized Musk for failing to prevent Russia from using the Starlink terminals in Russia-occupied regions of Ukraine.

Beijing's "no limit" relationship with Moscow

Chinese Premier Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to their reciprocal relationship in 2022 as a "no limits" friendship.

According to Chinese customs data, trade between the two countries reached a high of $240 billion in 2023, with China becoming one of Russia's largest goods suppliers since Western companies left the Russian market after the country's 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

China has also supplied Moscow with access to restricted "dual-use" goods, such as chips and integrated circuits, which can be used to produce weapons.

In return, Russia has exported large quantities of oil and coal to its neighbor, at discounted prices.

This time last year, China's Ambassador to the European Union Fu Cong downplayed the Russo-Chinese partnership in an interview with The New York Times.

Despite China's refusal to denounce the Russian aggression against Ukraine, Fu said at the time that his homeland was not on Russia's side of the war, adding that the relationship between Beijing and Moscow has been "deliberately misinterpreted."

But China's support for Russia has only grown in recent months, Bloomberg's sources said.

The Financial Times reported this week that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had briefed European allies on the extent of China's aid to Russia and the need to do more to prevent it. Blinken reportedly asked allies to raise the issue with China directly.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also warned of "significant consequences" this week should companies, including those in China, provide support to Russia that would help it wage war against Ukraine.

"We've been clear with China that we see Russia as gaining support from goods that Chinese firms are supplying to Russia," Yellen said on Saturday.

"On their side, China emphasized that it is their policy not to provide Russia with military support — neither of us wants this to be an issue with our bilateral relationship."

During a recent call, US President Joe Biden expressed his concerns directly to his Chinese counterpart regarding China's assistance to the Russian defense sector.

The call between Biden and Xi was the first one-on-one communication between the two leaders since they met in California in November last year when they agreed "to keep up more regular communications."

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