US bars Chinese agency for buying Russian jets, arms

Beijing accused of breaching law aimed at Moscow for meddling in 2016 US election

SU-35 combat aircraft fly in formation during a demonstration at an airshow in Zhukovsky, Russia.
SU-35 combat aircraft fly in formation during a demonstration at an airshow in Zhukovsky, Russia.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on the Chinese military for buying fighter jets and missile systems from Russia, in breach of a sweeping US sanctions law punishing Moscow for meddling in the 2016 United States election.

In Beijing, the Chinese government expressed anger and demanded that the sanctions announced on Thursday be withdrawn. Russia yesterday called the new wave of sanctions misguided, saying Washington's habit of using sanctions against Moscow risked undermining global stability and was part of a dangerous game.

The US State Department said it would immediately impose sanctions on China's Equipment Development Department (EDD), the military branch responsible for weapons and equipment, and its director, Mr Li Shangfu, for engaging in "significant transactions" with Rosoboronexport, Russia's main arms exporter.

The sanctions are related to China's purchase of 10 SU-35 combat aircraft last year and equipment related to the S-400 surface-to-air missile system this year, the State Department said.

They block the Chinese agency, and Mr Li, from applying for export licences and participating in the US financial system. It also adds them to the Treasury Department's list of specially designated individuals with whom Americans are barred from doing business.

The US also blacklisted another 33 people and entities associated with the Russian military and intelligence, adding them to a list under the 2017 law, known as the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or Caatsa.

Caatsa also seeks to punish Russia for its aggression in Ukraine and involvement in Syria's civil war.

"China expresses strong indignation at these unreasonable actions by the US side and has already lodged stern representations," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing, adding that the move seriously harmed bilateral relations and military ties. "We strongly urge the US side to immediately correct the mistake and rescind the so-called sanctions, otherwise the US side will necessarily bear responsibility for the consequences," he said, without giving details.

Doing significant business with anyone on the US blacklist can trigger sanctions like those imposed on China.

Some of those added to the list, which now contains 72 names, were indicted in connection with Russian interference in the 2016 US election, a US official said.

US President Donald Trump on Thursday issued an executive order intended to facilitate implementation of the sanctions.

One US administration official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said the sanctions imposed on the Chinese agency were aimed at Moscow, not Beijing or its military, despite an escalating trade war between the US and China.

"The ultimate target of these sanctions is Russia. Caatsa sanctions in this context are not intended to undermine the defence capabilities of any particular country," the official told reporters on a conference call.

"They are instead aimed at imposing costs upon Russia in response to its malign activities."

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in a statement it seemed to Moscow that imposing sanctions on Russia had become a national US pastime, noting that the latest wave of restrictions was the 60th sanctions package since 2011. "Each new round of sanctions proves our foe's complete lack of success in pressuring Russia with previous such attempts,"said Mr Ryabkov.

Security analysts in Asia said the move was largely symbolic and would only push Moscow and Beijing closer together.

"The imposition of US sanctions will have zero impact on Russian arms sales to China," said Dr Ian Storey, of Singapore's ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2018, with the headline 'US bars Chinese agency for buying Russian jets, arms'. Subscribe