For all Chinese President Xi Jinping's declarations of support for Russia during his state visit to Moscow, China's real motive in seeking closer ties is evidently to exploit the Ukraine conflict to test its military firepower.
Just as Iran has used Ukraine's brutal war to test the effectiveness of its drone and missile technology, so China's emerging industrial-military complex is reportedly looking for opportunities to conduct a rigorous evaluation of its new weapons systems; Chinese arms manufacturers are reportedly keen to test the effectiveness of their new weapons systems in Ukraine.
A year after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Russia's military, having lost an estimated 200,000 men and around 90 percent of its heavy armour, including around 50 percent of its pre-invasion tank fleet, finds itself in a dire predicament.
The scale of the losses has forced the Russians to pull 1950s-era T-54 and T-55 tanks out of storage for use in the Ukrainian conflict, a clear sign that Russian forces are suffering a serious shortage of heavy armour.
These chronic shortages in both men and equipment help to explain why Russian commanders are struggling to hold on to the territory Russian forces have illegally annexed in Ukraine, let alone mount fresh offensives against the Ukrainian defenders.
If Russian forces are to make any headway this year, they will need significant supplies of weapons from other nations, as Russia's corrupt defence industry is proving incapable of providing replacement weapons and equipment at the levels required by the Russian military.
This would explain why Russia has made repeated requests for China to supply arms to support its military campaign in Ukraine. So far, Beijing's official position is that it is only prepared to provide Moscow with non-lethal aid, such as helmets and dual-use items such as aircraft parts.
US officials, though, say they have intelligence showing that China is actively considering whether to supply Russia with weapons, as it has been doing since day one. The German magazine Der Spiegel reported in February that the Russian military was engaged in negotiations with Chinese drone manufacturer Xi'an Bingo Intelligent Aviation Technology over the mass production of kamikaze drones for Russia.
Russia has been using Iranian-made drones to carry out attacks against Ukraine's infrastructure and other targets, and the supply of Chinese drones, which reports say are due to be delivered to the Russian Defence Ministry next month, would enable the Russians to deliver warheads weighing between 35 and 50 kilograms.
Russian forces in Ukraine have already been using Chinese-made commercial drones, supplied by China-based Da-Jiang Innovations Science & Technology Co., known as DJI, according to an analysis of customs records, while others are transported through the United Arab Emirates.
The supply of Chinese-made military drones to Russia would, obviously, greatly enhance the offensive capabilities of Russian forces.
Western intelligence officials believe the prospect of Beijing increasing its military support for Ukraine has risen considerably following Xi's summit with Putin in Moscow this month.
China's People's Liberation Army is in the midst of a massive military build-up, outspokenly aimed at making China the world's dominant military power by the middle of the century. Global defence spending fell by 1.7 percent in 2021, and the US defence budget for 2024, with a supposed increase of 3.2 percent, after factoring in an inflation of 6 percent, is actually a net cut. Meanwhile, Chinese defence spending grew by 5.1 percent to $293 billion.
As part of its military build-up, which began in 2013, Beijing is aiming to integrate artificial intelligence in its command and control structures by 2035. In addition it is investing heavily in new fleets of warships and warplanes. China's recent advances in advanced weaponry such as missiles and guided weapons is a particular concern for the West.
Chinese defence firms now rank as some of the biggest in the world, reversing the situation whereby, only a decade ago, Beijing was relying on Russia for its arms supplies, having signed a $7 billion arms deal with Moscow as recently as 2015.
Now the tables have turned. Xi, who recently secured his third five-year-term as president, makes no secret of his desire to re-establish Beijing's control over Taiwan. The general consensus among Western security officials being that he will attempt to reclaim Taiwan by the end of the decade at the latest.
The Chinese military is said to be actively preparing to launch a military offensive to capture Taiwan, most likely before or during the US presidential election in November 2024, while the US is still under the administration of President Joe Biden, regarded worldwide as stunningly weak (such as here, here, and here), and while the country is likely to be distracted.
Biden's repeated statements that he seeks "competition not conflict" with China, and that "We don't want a conflict" with Russia, can only be viewed as pleas not to escalate, rather than as a thundering deterrence.
According to recent comments made by CIA Director William Burns, Beijing aims to be conflict-ready by 2027.
This is certainly the message Xi relayed to China's military chiefs during a visit to the country's operational command centre at the end of last year when he warned "the entire military must... concentrate all energy on fighting a war, direct all work toward warfare and speed up to build the ability to win."
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph's Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.