President Trump will sanction China for purchasing Russian fighter jets and anti-aircraft weapons systems, administration officials announced Thursday.
Officials at the State Department and Treasury Department unveiled sanctions against China’s Equipment Development Department, which procures new weaponry and technology for the Chinese military. The sanctions are being imposed pursuant to the 2017 sanctions law punishing Russian interference in the 2016 elections, which threatens to sanction any third party that conducts a “significant transaction” with the Russian defense industry.
“These significant transactions involved Russia’s delivery to China of Su-35 combat aircraft in 2017 and S-400 surface-to-air missile system-related equipment in 2018,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday.
The announcement marks the first time that the United States has used this authority to punish a purchaser of Russian weaponry, a blow that falls first on a Chinese government that has aligned with Russia in a series of international disputes.
“I want to emphasize that the ultimate target of these sanctions is Russia,” a senior administration official told reporters Thursday. “Since China has now gone ahead and, in fact, done what is clearly a significant transaction ... we feel it necessary and indeed we are required by the law take this step today.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also added 33 names to the list of people and entities specified as being part of the Russian defense and intelligence sectors, which will hamper their ability to conduct international business. But the blacklisting of China's weapons procurement entity is the more direct action, punishing the purchase of Russia’s most advanced fighter jets and anti-aircraft systems.
“The sanctions being imposed on EDD are a denial of export licenses; a prohibition on foreign exchange transactions under United States jurisdiction; a prohibition on transactions with the United States financial system; blocking of all property and interests in property within United States jurisdiction; and the imposition of sanctions on an EDD principal executive officer, its director Li Shangfu, which include a prohibition on foreign exchange transactions under United States jurisdiction, a prohibition on transactions with the United States financial system, blocking of all property and interests in property within United States jurisdiction, and a visa ban,” Nauert detailed.
It’s not clear how much those moves will affect the EDD’s day-to-day operations or U.S. policy towards China. The denial of export licenses stiffens the preexisting “presumption of denial for items that would make a direct and significant contribution to China military capabilities,” according to the Commerce Department.
But the announcement brings some clarity to U.S. policy about the sanctions law. There was uncertainty on Capitol Hill about whether arms purchases completed under agreements that were signed prior to the passage of the sanctions law would be punishable.
The weapons were delivered in 2017 and 2018 under agreements signed in 2014 and 2015.
The announcement could set a significant precedent for Turkey, a NATO ally that wants to conclude the purchase of an S-400 weapons system.
“We hope that this step will send a signal of our seriousness and perhaps encourage others to think twice about their own engagement with the Russian defense and intelligence sectors,” the senior administration official said.