A drone attack struck Kyiv on October 17 amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Photo: Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP
A Chinese drone manufacturer has denied it has any commercial dealings with Russia, following a report claiming it was negotiating with the country’s military over the mass production of “kamikaze” drones.A Thursday report by German newspaper Der Spiegel said the Chinese company, Xi’an Bingo Intelligent Aviation Technology, had agreed to make and test 100 ZT-180 prototype drones before delivering them to the Russian Defense Ministry by April.
The report did not specify sources for the claim, citing only “information” the outlet obtained. In a response to the report, a contractor for Xi’an Bingo told VICE World News the drone maker had no business relationships with Russia. The company declined to comment any further and said it would only accept interviews from domestic media outlets.“Bingo Intelligent has no commercial contact with Russia,” the company said.The report of China’s alleged plan to sell drones to Russia comes at a sensitive time as the U.S., Germany, and other Western countries have warned of severe consequences and sanctions if China aids Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with arms.The U.S. has accused China, a firm Russian ally, of potentially providing military aid to Moscow. China said these claims “have no factual basis.” Russian trade data shows that Chinese state-owned defense companies have exported technology such as navigation equipment and fighter jet parts to Russia since the start of the conflict, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month. This week, the newspaper separately reported that the U.S. government is considering releasing intelligence that purportedly shows China weighing whether to send arms to Russia beyond commercial items that could have military applications. The Biden administration was seeking to find out if the Chinese government was aware of state-owned companies’ alleged aid to Russia’s war effort, Bloomberg reported last month.
Xi’an Bingo, headquartered in the northwestern Chinese province of Shaanxi, was founded in 2017 and sells a range of aeronautical products, including unmanned aerial vehicles for policing purposes, according to a Chinese directory of drone manufacturers. The Der Spiegel report, citing unnamed sources, said the design of the Chinese drone could be similar to Iran’s Shahed 136 kamikaze drone, which Russia has used in Ukraine to strike targets including residential buildings and power facilities.Beijing has portrayed itself as a peacemaker since the invasion, urging on Friday for a cease-fire between Ukraine and Russia and releasing a 12-point proposal for ending the conflict. The plan, issued by the Chinese foreign ministry, also calls for an end of Western sanctions on Russia, measures to secure nuclear facilities in Ukraine, and the evacuation of civilians through humanitarian corridors. Drew Thompson, a former U.S. Defense Department official on China, said it was concerning to him that Beijing’s proposal didn’t proscribe against transfers of weapons to Russia and that it is “possible” that Beijing is preparing to provide Russia with lethal support.“If China does provide weapons to Russia, it is prepared to wreck its relationship with Europe in order to prop up Russia and the horrible choices Moscow has made,” he said.China and Russia see each other as allies in their opposition to the U.S.-led world order. China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, reaffirmed those ties during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this week. During Wang’s visit, Putin said he was waiting for Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Russia. The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Xi was preparing to visit Moscow for a summit in the coming months, citing people familiar with the plan.
Before the release of Beijing’s peace plan, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he wanted to meet with Chinese leaders to discuss its contents. The Ukrainian leader previously said Beijing had refused to arrange high-level talks with his government.The U.S. State Department said on Thursday that Beijing’s allegiance with Moscow meant it wasn’t a neutral mediator and expressed skepticism that China’s plan could contribute to peace in Ukraine.The same day, the U.N. General Assembly approved a nonbinding resolution calling for Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine. China abstained from the vote.China has never openly criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, although it has staunchly opposed the use of nuclear weapons in an implicit rebuke to Putin’s brinkmanship.Follow Alan Wong on Twitter.