Following pleas from the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister to stop supplying Russia, Taiwanese PC maker ASUS announced this week that it has ceased shipments and will abide by “all international regulations.”
The same cannot be said of China’s Lenovo, the world’s largest personal computer manufacturer—at least not with certainty.
Despite reports that Lenovo stopped sales in Russia, other media reporting suggests that the company—which controls 18.5% of the Russian PC market (compared to ASUS’ 15.6%)—continues to do business there. Lenovo has not offered an official statement of whether it is maintaining its operations in Russia.
“Xi Jinping’s role in Ukraine is far less visible than Vladimir Putin’s, but make no mistake: China is also a combatant in the war,” Gordon Chang, author of The Great U.S.-China Tech War, wrote in Newsweek this week. “China was clearly involved in Vladimir Putin’s planning for the invasion” and is has provided financial and diplomatic support to Russia.
It seems the People’s Republic of China may also be committed to providing technological support to Russia through its vast network of state-sponsored entities. Lenovo, for example, faced domestic backlash after it announced that it would join Western tech companies in halting sales to Russia, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month.
Analysts have widely predicted that because of Western sanctions, Russia can be expected to turn more to China to maintain access to critical technologies. “The winners are likely to be Chinese vendors such as Huawei, that have themselves been the victim of Western trade embargoes,” Canalys, an Asian tech research firm, wrote this month.
Yet, the United States’ leadership in chip design and manufacturing equipment may provide a leverage point to discourage Chinese companies from providing advanced semiconductor products.
“Chinese firms may be even more hesitant to provide critical technology like high-end semiconductors, production of which is almost entirely reliant on U.S. technology and equipment, for fear of losing their already limited ability to purchase necessary equipment from the United States,” the Washington Post reported on March 11.
Against those consequences, reports that Lenovo stopped and later resumed sales to Russia suggest the decision may have been motivated (or compelled) by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Russia’s invasion in Ukraine presents a compelling scenario for U.S. policymakers, should China attack Taiwan. As Dr. Layton wrote recently, after Russia invaded Eastern Ukraine in 2014, the Ukrainian government acted quickly to reduce the country’s reliance on Russian technology and to fortify its defenses against Russian cyberattacks.
American lawmakers and experts have increasingly stressed the need to cut reliance on Chinese-made and to rip-and-replace malicious and vulnerable Chinese equipment and software from U.S. networks. Yet, should the United States and China come to a military conflict, it would be too late to do so, giving our adversary a potentially decisive advantage.
Reducing U.S. reliance on Chinese technology will take a whole-of-nation effort. In the meantime, policymakers should scrutinize Lenovo’s operations in Russia. Either the company is openly defying Western regulations, or it is acting at the behest of the CCP—and both scenarios warrant deeper consideration.