China says not aware of talks between Russia and Chinese company on buying drones

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China’s foreign ministry said on Friday it is not aware of reports about talks between Russia and a Chinese company for the purchase of drones.

“There has been a large volume of disinformation spread on this point. We should be vigilant about who is behind this,” ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a news briefing.

“I also want to emphasize that China on the export of military products has always held a cautious and responsible attitude, not selling military products to conflict areas or warring parties.”

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German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Thursday, without citing specific sources, that Russia was in talks with a Chinese manufacturer about buying 100 drones, with a delivery date of April.

In recent days, the United States, Germany and other Western countries have warned China not to sell weapons to Russia for its war against Ukraine, saying that any such move would have severe consequences.

Russia, hemmed in by severe Western sanctions imposed in response to its attack on Ukraine, is believed to have bought weaponry from Iran and North Korea, including drones from the former, but China has so far stood aside.

Der Spiegel said Chinese drone manufacturer Xian Bingo Intelligent Aviation Technology had said it was prepared to make 100 prototypes of its ZT-180 drone, which the magazine said could carry a 35-50kg warhead.

“I have told China’s representatives that it cannot be accepted,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told ZDF public television on Thursday when asked about less specific reports that China might help Russia.

Der Spiegel said the drone was similar to Iran’s Shahed-136, with which Russia has launched countless attacks on Ukraine, claiming hundreds of lives and damaging civilian infrastructure.

The magazine also said Bingo had plans to help establish a production site for the drone in Russia, where up to 100 aircraft could be made a month.

It added that there had been earlier plans for a company controlled by the Chinese army to send Russia spare parts for its SU-27 warplane.

Bingo did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

The company was founded in 2017 by Ma Jingdong, a graduate of China’s Northwestern Polytechnical University and its drones have been used by the likes of China’s electricity network operator State Grid to carry out environmental monitoring work, according to posts on its official WeChat account.

In November 2018, Bingo said it had signed a strategic cooperation agreement with an online platform established by Poly Technology Defense Investment, a unit of state-owned China Poly Group which aims to support military trade and research into military equipment.

A procurement document published by the government of China’s far western Xinjiang region in August 2021 said drones developed by Bingo had been used in military exercises and described their technical strength as “first class.”

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