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I was surprised to learn that China seems to be complying with at least some sanctions against Russia:

China has refused to supply Russian airlines with aircraft parts, an official at Russia's aviation authority was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying on Thursday, after Boeing and Airbus halted supply of components.
Agencies including Interfax quoted Valery Kudinov, a Rosaviatsia official responsible for maintaining airplane airworthiness, as saying that Russia would look for opportunities to source parts from countries including Turkey and India after a failed attempt to obtain them from China.

But... why would they do this, given their official stance supporting Russia? Wouldn't openly refusing to respect the sanctions be a great power move to defy Western influence? I do understand that they might still help Russia go around the sanctions in secret but why not do it openly for the whole world to see?

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    China abstained from the vote against Russia. Clearly, Xi wants to maintain various possibilities open, of which this is another example. Venezuela also abstained, even though Maduro and Putin are fairly close. Would the United States be negotiating with them on oil imports if Maduro had voted against the resolution to condemn Russia?
    – Obie 2.0
    Mar 11 at 23:04
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    Russia said that China wouldn't supply them. We have no way of knowing for sure if this is true or not. Mar 12 at 12:42
  • @RBarryYoung correct but it seems like openly defying western sanctions would be a great power move for China. Call them out on their bluff and see if they’d be willing to collapse the global economy over Ukraine Mar 12 at 18:27
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    It seems pretty clear at this point that China isn't thrilled with how this invasion is going. Much like Putin, Xi bought pretty heavily into the idea that they invasion would look more like the fall of Afghanistan than Syria.
    – eps
    Mar 12 at 19:37
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    @JonathanReez The quotation marks suggest that you are quoting some source. If that is so, could you share it with us?
    – user42527
    Mar 13 at 22:01

2 Answers 2

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TL;DR

It seems China has more to gain (or fear by not) by complying with Western sanctions than it has to gain by aiding Russia in the latters time of need.

Overall, making Russia happy is worth less than the ability to trade and work with the the rest of the world, long after the dust has settled in Ukraine...

A view from the west, but could include clues as to why:

https://supchina.com/2022/03/04/the-economic-fallout-of-russian-sanctions-on-china-explained/

China’s exposure to the Russia sanctions, explained

China’s direct exposure is small: While China is Russia’s largest trading partner, Russia is not even in China’s top 10. Bilateral trade will continue as well, since Russia’s trade surplus vis-a-vis China ensures that Chinese exports keep flowing until trade nets out.

Chinese businesses and banks appear reluctant to transact with Russia for fear of secondary sanctions.

Two of China’s biggest commercial banks just restricted financing or purchases of Russian commodities.

SMIC, which supplies chips to both the West and Russia...(carefully) complying with the Western sanctions regime would be much safer for the Chinese chipmaker’s bottom lines.

Chinese businesses cannot help but take Western sanctions seriously for fear of being next on the sanctions list.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/02/russia-economy-sanctions-china-support-ukrain

China not emerging as lifeline for sanction-slammed Russian economy

Despite a close partnership built around mistrust of the United States, Beijing is hesitant to incur Western wrath for evading sanctions on Russia.

Beijing appears to be holding back over practical constraints and fears of secondary sanctions on Chinese institutions.

Chinese officials and commentators have urged caution at drawing American ire and instead suggested China focus on building up its resilience against similar measures that could target the country in the future rather than helping Russia now.

China’s businesses and banks appear to be seeking to avoid being pulled into Moscow’s standoff with the West.

Without making public statements, some Chinese institutions appear to be quietly adhering to sanctions, and there are few signs of significant attempts to create a lifeline for the Russian economy.

China’s announcement in February lifting restrictions on Russian wheat imports received a lot of attention, but it was just the fulfillment of a pledge made much earlier after concerns about the presence of dwarf bunt fungus found in previous shipments had been resolved.

For Chinese technology groups, undermining business relationships with the West to build up ties with Russia is not an attractive trade-off. For many of China’s leading technology companies, business with Europe and North America dwarfs that with Russia, especially when it comes to purchases of cutting-edge equipment.

“China would risk losing access to technologies from the West if it ignores restrictions on Russia. And the West has far more to offer than Russia in terms of semiconductors, software and high-end industrial goods,” said Dan Wang, a Shanghai-based technology analyst for research firm Gavekal Dragonomics.

China has the ability to aid Russian banks to make cross-border transactions using its yuan-based Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS), an alternative to the SWIFT messaging service to which the banks have lost access under Western sanctions.

But CIPS is limited by its current scale and Chinese restrictions on convertibility of the yuan, which accounts for a tiny portion of cross-border transactions compared with the dollar. On Tuesday, CIPS handled 11,513 transactions compared with around 40 million messages per day for SWIFT.

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    There is another component to China's position. Russia's justification, that rebel territories are independent, harms China's position on the Republic of China. independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/… Mar 12 at 2:10
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    I am not so sure. The PRC sees ROC as a rebel region, not rebel separatists in a foreign land (Ukraine being a fake state aside), but something internal to reign in. They do not recognise ROC as an independent state full stop, it is a part of of the PRC that will be reigned in sooner or later. This is an immovable aspect of how PRC perceives ROC and the Ukraine situation has no parity to it. There is no armed rebel faction being oppressed appealing for Beijing's help. Mar 12 at 2:20
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    (part2) Russia recognising the rebel regions as independent has more to do with the pretext for invasion than it has to with actually recognizing them as independent states. With Russia recognizing them, and them subsequently requesting military help against Ukraine aggression, allows Russia to roll in military forces into a neighboring state under the guise of peacekeepers. Once there the step into Ukraine for invasion is a small one. PRC needs none of these, it can just roll in, it is an internal matter after all. They knew Russia's direction as soon as Crimea came up 8 years ago. Mar 12 at 2:29
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    That all depends on one thing that, xi is not stupid
    – user42422
    Mar 12 at 16:04
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    @blobbymcblobby: I see what you mean, but, even so, Russia's recognition of Donetsk as independent could be seen as analogous with America's recognising Taiwan as independent. Which she hasn't done.
    – Cerberus
    Mar 12 at 17:16
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Right now, China like everybody else is quite dependent on a few aircraft manufacturers. And the US has shown its willigness to put under a parts ban, including for commercial aircraft, various Chinese airlines accused of being too close to the military, e.g.

Former US president Donald Trump began limiting China’s access to dual-use products – technology that can be used for both military and peaceful means – by designating Chinese aerospace and aviation companies, including the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (Avic) and Aero-Engine Company of China (AECC), as “military end users”.

Companies that fall under the designation are banned from buying certain items, such as sensors, lasers, avionics and navigation products – unless the exporter secures a licence. [...]

The US has sanctioned Avic and many of its subsidiaries.

Xi’an Aircraft Company, a subsidiary on the “military end user” list and the Chinese Military-Industrial Complex Companies List, supplies parts for China’s answer to Boeing’s 737 and Airbus’s A320, the narrow-body jet C919 jet built by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, a state-owned company based in Shanghai.

So Chinese carriers/companies are treading carefully on this, probably not quite willing to test the West by acting as sanction-busting proxy for Russia on this. Meanwhile China is working at pace to make their own aircraft in numbers, to be less dependent on Western ones, but this will likely take years.

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