SHARE >>>  
/// NEWS
China Ukraine

China’s Ukraine Dilemma

14 March 2014

On the eve of President Xi’s landmark visit to Europe, the Chinese leadership is struggling to respond to the fast-moving situation in the Ukraine. The dilemma facing Beijing is that it does not wish to undermine its basic foreign policy principles of respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Nor, with an eye on Taiwan and Tibet, does it wish to support demands for referenda. But at the same time it does not wish to criticise Russia, its strategic partner with whom it is keen to maintain good relations.

Beijing seems to have been taken aback by the speed of events in Ukraine, including the sudden flight of President Yanukovich, who only last December paid an official visit to China. So far China has attempted to have its cake and eat it. In a Delphic statement on 3 March, the MFA stated that China stood for non-interference and the peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis. But it also noted that “there were reasons for the current situation in the country and China was aware of the historical facts and realistic complexity of the Ukrainian issue.” Chinese leaders have also been active in telephone diplomacy with President Xi speaking to President Putin and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in touch with his Russian, Polish, German and French counterparts.

China has not yet recognised the interim government in Kiev and Beijing’s most recent statements show a leaning towards Russia. There is less emphasis on territorial integrity and more support for the protection of all ethnic minorities. The Xinhua state news agency has also published editorials alleging that Western involvement in Ukraine is among the reasons for the current crisis in Ukraine.

But China is unlikely to rush to recognise any new ‘Russian’ republic in Crimea. It is worried about a possible domino effect in Central Asia and even in China (Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan). Despite requests from Moscow it has not recognised South Ossetia or Abkhazia.

China also has a strategic partnership with Ukraine but it is not highly developed. It supplies Ukraine with agricultural products and buys some weapons.

The timing of the crisis is unfortunate for President Xi as the media spotlight is likely to remain on Ukraine during his European tour. The media may ask him which side he is on – a question he would rather not answer.