As U.S. and European businesses cut ties with Russia, Chinese tech firms remain silent

Key Points
  • American firms such as Apple and Disney have reduced their business in Russia after the country invaded Ukraine but Chinese technology firms have remained silent on the issue.
  • Companies including Huawei, Xiaomi and Alibaba declined to comment when contacted by CNBC about whether they would cut their business in Russia.
  • While leaders in the U.S., Europe and Asia have denounced and sanctioned Russia and its president Vladimir Putin, China has refused to call the attack an invasion.
Pictured in this image is a video screen in Russian President Putin's office in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence showing China's President Xi Jinping, during a bilateral meeting via a video call.
Mikhail Metzel | Tass | Getty Images

American and European firms have been cutting ties with Russia or at least reducing their business in the country since it invaded Ukraine, but Chinese technology businesses have remained relatively quiet.

CNBC contacted nine major Chinese technology companies but only one provided comment. The rest declined to comment or did not return responses.

While leaders in the U.S., Europe and Asia have denounced and sanctioned Russia and President Vladimir Putin, China has refused to call the attack an invasion.

Apple said Tuesday it stopped selling its products in Russia. The iPhone giant also said that it removed Russian state-backed media outlets RT News and Sputnik News from its App Store around the world except for Russia.

Google has removed both news outlets from its Play Store in Europe too.

Nike made online purchases of its goods unavailable in Russia saying that it cannot guarantee delivery of goods in the country. Meanwhile, major movie studios including Disney and Warner Bros. halted theatrical releases of upcoming films in Russia.

Energy companies such as BP have pulled out of Russian investments while Visa and Mastercard have blocked Russian financial institutions from their payments networks.

The U.S., European nations and allies have slapped sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, targeting financial institutions and the nation's oligarchs. Sanctions have caused the Russian ruble to plunge and shares of one of the country's biggest lenders Sberbank to collapse.

Some companies have cut business in Russia to comply with these sanctions.

Chinese firms remain silent

China and Russia have been growing closer over the past few months. In December, Chinese leader Xi Jinping held a call with Putin. The Russian president called Xi his "dear friend" and said relations between the two countries had reached "an unprecedentedly high level."

China has not reacted to Russia's invasion of Ukraine with condemnation and sanctions like Western powers. Officials have avoided calling the attack an invasion and have instead deflected blame for it onto the U.S.

China's banking and insurance regulator said it opposes and will not join financial sanctions against Russia.

While many Western companies have spoken out against the war and reduced business in Russia, Chinese companies have remained silent and taken little action.

"For Chinese firms, the shadow of the China-Russia relationship looms large. These companies do not want to anger Beijing by taking a political stance (i.e. exiting Russia)," Abishur Prakash, co-founder of the Center for Innovating the Future, an advisory firm, told CNBC via email Wednesday.

"Unless the Chinese government changes its foreign policy suddenly, Chinese firms are unlikely to 'act geopolitically.' Whatever tone Beijing sets, is the tone these companies will adhere to. And, right now, the tone is tacit support for Russia."

China's Foreign Ministry says U.S. is fueling the fire and worsening the Russia-Ukraine conflict
China's Foreign Ministry says U.S. is worsening the Russia-Ukraine conflict

Consumer electronics makers Huawei, Xiaomi and Honor, declined to comment when contacted by CNBC.

Smartphone maker Oppo did not return multiple requests for comment.

Realme, which is the fourth-largest smartphone player in Russia, said it is "still monitoring closely the situation and waiting for more information."

Meanwhile, Alibaba declined to comment. The Chinese firm has a joint venture in Russia with internet company Group, Russian mobile-telecommunications operator MegaFon and sovereign-wealth fund Russian Direct Investment Fund.

Search company Baidu and gaming giants Tencent and NetEase did not return requests for comment.

Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi also counts RDIF as an investor. The company has operations in Russia. Last week, Didi announced that it would exit Russia "due to changing market conditions," but did not mention the Ukraine conflict. Shortly after, it U-turned and said it would not close down its Russia business.

Didi did not return multiple comment requests from CNBC.

TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, is one of the only Chinese companies to have taken some action. TikTok said it would restrict access to Russian state-controlled sites RT and Sputnik in the European Union.