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Small Chinese Banks in G7 Spotlight for Dealings With Russia

Small Chinese banks funding deals with Russia will be discussed at the summit in Italy amid concern China is bolstering “the Russian war machine.”

Leaders of the Group of Seven, or G7, countries have committed to raising $600 billion over five years to counter China's multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.
Group of Seven leaders gather for a dinner at Schloss Elmau in southern Germany in this file photo from June 26, 2022. China's dealings with Russia look like being a hot topic this week.


Small Chinese banks that are funding burgeoning trade between China and Russia will be a key topic at the Group of Seven summit in Italy this week.

Sources have said leaders of the G7 wealthy democracies are likely to send a tough warning this week to smaller Chinese banks to stop assisting Russia in evading Western sanctions.

G7 leaders will fly in to Italy for the summit, hosted by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, due to run from Thursday to Saturday (June 13-15). They are expected to focus heavily during private meetings on the threat posed by burgeoning Chinese-Russian trade to the war in Ukraine, and what to do about it.


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Those conversations are likely to result in public statements on the issue involving Chinese banks, according to a US official involved in planning the event and another person briefed on the issue.

The United States and its G7 partners – Britain, Canada France, Germany, Italy and Japan – are not expected to take any immediate punitive action against any banks during the summit, such as restricting their access to the SWIFT messaging system or cutting off access to the dollar.

Their focus is said to be on smaller institutions, not the largest Chinese banks, one of the people said.

Negotiations were still ongoing about the exact format and content of the warning, according to the people, who declined to be named when discussing ongoing diplomatic engagements. The plans to address the topic at the G7 were not previously reported.

The White House and US Treasury Department had no immediate comment, but Treasury officials have repeatedly warned financial institutions in Europe and China and elsewhere that they face sanctions for helping Russia skirt Western sanctions.


China seen as ‘factory of Russian war machine’

Daleep Singh, deputy national security adviser for international economics, told the Center for a New American Security this week that he expected G7 leaders to target China’s support for a Russian economy now reoriented around the war.

“Our concern is that China is increasingly the factory of the Russian war machine. You can call it the arsenal of autocracy when you consider Russia’s military ambitions threaten obviously the existence of Ukraine, but increasingly European security, NATO and trans-Atlantic security,” he said.

Singh and other top Biden administration officials say Washington and its partners are prepared to use sanctions and tighter export controls to reduce Russia’s ability to circumvent Western sanctions, including with secondary sanctions that could be used against banks and other financial institutions.

Washington is poised to announce significant new sanctions next week on financial and non-financial targets, a source familiar with the plans said.

This year’s G7 summit is also expected to focus on leveraging profits generated by Russian assets frozen in the West for Ukraine’s benefit.


Small banks on Russian border

Washington has so far been reluctant to implement sanctions on major Chinese banks – long deemed by analysts a “nuclear” option – because of the huge ripple effects it could inflict on the global economy and US-China relations.

Concern over the possibility of sanctions has already caused China’s big banks to throttle payments for cross-border transactions involving Russians, or pull back from any involvement altogether.

That has pushed Chinese companies to small banks on the border and stoked the use of underground financing channels or banned cryptocurrency. Western officials are concerned that some Chinese financial institutions are still facilitating trade in goods with dual civilian and military applications.

Beijing has accused Washington of making baseless claims about what it says are normal trade exchanges with Moscow.

The Biden administration this year began probing which sanctions tools might be available to it to thwart Chinese banks, a US official previously said, but had no imminent plans to take such steps. In December, President Joe Biden signed an executive order threatening sanctions on financial institutions that help Moscow skirt Western sanctions.

The US has sanctioned smaller Chinese banks in the past, such as the Bank of Kunlun, over various issues, including working with Iranian institutions.

China and Russia have fostered more trade in yuan instead of the dollar in the wake of the Ukraine war, potentially shielding their economies from possible US sanctions.


  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard



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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


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