China insists it respects sovereignty of ex-Soviet states after ambassador casts doubt

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the remarks were ‘unacceptable’

China’s foreign ministry has insisted that it respects the sovereign status of Ukraine and other former Soviet republics after one of Beijing’s top diplomats cast doubt on their position in international law.

Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said China’s position had not changed and that it upholds the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all the states that became independent after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

“After the Soviet Union dissolved, China was one of the first countries that established diplomatic ties with the countries concerned,” Ms Mao said.

“Since the establishment of diplomatic ties with these countries, China has followed the principles of mutual respect and equality in developing friendly and co-operative bilateral relations with them.


“China respects the status of the former Soviet republics as sovereign countries after the Soviet Union’s dissolution.”

Her remarks came after China’s ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, sparked a storm of protest with an interview on Friday in which he appeared to question the status of former Soviet republics including Ukraine. Asked if Crimea, which Russia annexed by force in 2014, was part of Ukraine under international law, Mr Lu demurred.

“Even these ex-Soviet Union countries do not have effective status, as we say, under international law because there’s no international accord to concretise their status as a sovereign country,” he said.

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, former Soviet republics that are now EU member-states, said they would summon the Chinese ambassadors in their capitals. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the remarks were “unacceptable” and Czech minister for foreign affairs Jan Lipavsky said they exposed either shocking incompetence or a “very dangerous position contradicting the basics of the international law”.

Beijing’s walking back of Mr Lu’s comments could hardly have been more comprehensive and when asked if the foreign ministry stood by the ambassador’s remarks, Ms Mao declined to do so. “I can tell you that what I stated just now represents the official position of the Chinese government,” she said.

China has maintained a formal position of neutrality on the war in Ukraine, although it has offered diplomatic and economic support to Moscow. Ms Mao said China wanted to see a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine, which she pointed out was a member of the United Nations (UN).

“It is understood by all that only sovereign countries can become UN member states,” she said.

“China has established and developed sound relations with Ukraine in line with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.

“Any attempt to drive a wedge in or disrupt China’s relations with relevant countries are ill-intentioned and will not succeed.”

Fu Cong, China’s ambassador to the EU, said that relations between Brussels and Beijing had “no limit”, just as those between China and Russia, as declared by Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin shortly before the invasion of Ukraine last year.

“Friendship and co-operation among countries are endless and should not be artificially limited. Sino-Russian co-operation is unlimited, and the same is true for China and Europe,” Mr Fu told The Paper, a Chinese daily.

“The European side should not look at China-Europe relations through the prism of the Ukraine crisis, let alone develop relations with the US at the expense of China-Europe relations and Chinese interests.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times