China’s stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict is increasingly being discussed globally. Despite worldwide condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Chinese government, at every instance, failed to condemn Russia’s so-called “special military intervention” in Ukraine, and is rather alleged to provide support for Putin’s actions. China has abstained from voting at the United Nations Security Council for holding a session on Ukraine. In a pre-winter Olympic ceremony at Beijing, President Xi met Russia’s Putin, and lauded its relations with Beijing amid its spiraling tensions with Ukraine and the West. At this meet, both leaders criticized the US and the NATO for adopting a Cold War approach. China’s state media keeps reiterating that the eastward expansion of NATO has triggered the Ukrainian crisis. China has even refused to call the Russian operation an “invasion”.


Amid the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Chinese technology giant Huawei has been once again criticized for its controversial actions in support of the interests of the Chinese state. For instance, Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton has accused Huawei of helping Russia in the conflict and expressed deep concerns on the “unholy alliance” between the two countries. Huawei’s role in escalating major power rivalry is well-known, but its alleged direct involvement in a wartime situation is putting the global spotlight on the multifaceted role of Chinese tech giants in world affairs.


Since the start of the ongoing military operations, Russia has faced repeated disruptions from sustained cyber-attacks by anonymous hackers, many claiming to support Ukraine. According to the reports, Chinese private tech giant Huawei is accused of helping Russia to keep its internet secure and working during wartime, and ensuring the Russian forces can preserve its internet from cyber-attacks. Reports claim that Huawei had rushed to rescue Russian cyber establishments as soon as the firm got informed about the attack on the Russian internet. Huawei has an impressive hold in the Russian internet market and carries five research centers in Russia. These centers are supposed to carry capacity-building programs for the Russians to enhance their cyber defense mechanism during the conflict. At the same time, Chinese authorities are fully and actively involved in saving its tech arm by deleting the posts from multiple Chinese online news sites, which speak about Huawei’s involvement in Russia’s cyber-defence during the conflict. It is being reported that Huawei will utilize its research centers in Russia to train 50,000 tech experts to handle the wartime disruptions on the Russian internet.


During such a conflict scenario, Huawei’s support for the Russian cyber protection teams has raised international concern, given the Chinese government’s strategic connection with the tech giant. While the most of the countries are vouching their support for Ukraine and putting Russia under sanctions, Huawei’s supportive behavior towards Russia is seen as political rather than commercial. China’s abstention from putting pressure on Russia against the conflict is complemented by employing its technology giants in supporting and protecting Russian interests.


The Ukraine crisis ostensibly affects the firm’s business in Ukraine. Any possible change of guard or further worsening of the conflict may endanger Huawei’s plans and deal on installing 4G networks in Kiev’s metro system. Since the European Union is the second largest partner of China, the latter would not want to attract the wrath of its European partners who are also key players for the success of its flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The deteriorating Russian economy is also making it hard for Huawei to sustain its sales in Russia. The sudden downfall of the Russian Rouble and its volatility in the exchange rates due to the crisis has made Huawei officials say that doing business in Russia as now a “risky affair”. The adverse condition of the Russian economy is making it difficult for the Chinese companies, including Huawei as a major telecom and smartphone supplier, to reap the benefits of the exodus of western companies and brands like Apple, Samsung, etc., out of Russia.


On the other hand, the reports of Huawei providing assistance to Russian authorities and regarding its unclear stand on the war in Ukraine has made Huawei losing some important partnerships and business. Huawei has already faced a hit from German football club Bayern Munich’s Polish international striker Robert Lewandowski who has announced to cut his ties with the company on the alleged involvements with Russia in the conflict. Lewandowski was serving as the regional ambassador of the company in Poland, Central and Eastern Europe, and Scandinavia. Huawei’s offices in the European countries have also given stern reactions amid Huawei’s silence over Ukraine’s invasion and support for Russian authorities. According to reports, two non-executive CEOs of the Huawei office in the UK have resigned citing the reason that Huawei has not expressed its clear stand on the conflict, while many tech companies like Apple, Samsung, Google, IBM, etc. have halted their operations in Russia in a protest against Russian actions.


In this scenario, the fear of fresh sanctions looms over the Chinese tech giant. The West has already been sanctioning the oligarchs that could strategically support the Russian state and its war in Ukraine. The question arises, whether they can use the allegations to introduce sanctions against Chinese technology companies (Like Huawei, ZTE, etc.) that are said to have been indirectly helping Russian aggression on Ukraine. Since the West and especially the USA believes that Beijing is reluctant to corner Russia, secondary sanctions may be imposed on China and its businesses in Russia that can further crumble Huawei’s interests.


Also, at the same time, if only Huawei chooses to take a lesson from 2019 sanctions from the USA and Australia, it needs to fear sanctions from western countries for helping Russia. The US-led sanctions, if the conflict escalates, may make it further difficult for technology companies to operate in Russia, and any techniques of Chinese companies to evade these sanctions might lead to another ‘Meng Wanzhou incident’. Such fear will further accentuate the geopolitical rivalries due to technology giants and their interests entangled with the interests of the states.


However, the sanctions related to Russia are still in the nascent stage and only time will give further clarity about their implementation, given the leeway that the US government offers to its partner nations.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are personal.