France summoned China’s ambassador to Paris, Lu Shaye, on Monday to explain his controversial remarks on French television questioning the sovereignty of the post-Soviet state. The Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania said they would also send Chinese envoys to the three countries to discuss the matter.
China’s foreign ministry tried to make up for the damage on Monday, insisting it recognizes the sovereignty of all former Soviet republics that have declared independence, including Ukraine.
“China respects the sovereign status of the former Soviet republics after the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning told a news conference in Beijing. Asked whether Mr Lu’s comments on Friday represented official policy, Ms Mao replied: “I can tell you that what I just said represents the official position of the Chinese government.”
“China’s position on relevant issues has not changed,” she added, noting that China was one of the first countries to establish relations with all “relevant countries” after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Recent erratic rhetoric from Chinese diplomats – including Lu Kang and China’s ambassador to the EU, Fu Cong – suggests that Beijing is still struggling to strike a balance between courting European leaders and supporting Russia, which has announced an “unrestricted” partnership . The Ukraine war has put Beijing in an awkward position: It has both refused to condemn the Russian invasion and promised not to help Russia militarily wage the war.
Mr Lou sparked widespread panic when he was asked on French television TF1 whether Crimea, illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, was part of Ukraine under international law. Crimea, which historically belonged to Russia, had been handed over to Ukraine, he said. “Even these countries of the former Soviet Union do not have valid status in international law because there is no international agreement that clearly defines their status as sovereign states,” he added.
By contrast, Fu Cong, China’s ambassador to the European Union, said in an interview with The New York Times this month that China does not recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea or parts of Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, but instead recognizes Ukraine within internationally recognized borders, In line with Ms. Mao’s remarks on Monday.
But Mr Fu also said Beijing did not condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine because it understood Russia’s claim that it was a defensive war against a NATO invasion and that the Chinese government believed “the root cause is more complex than Western leaders say”.
Still, Mr Lu’s remarks caused confusion and anger in Ukraine and the European Union, especially in eastern and central European countries under Soviet rule or occupation. The Baltic states, which were annexed by the Soviet Union after World War II, are particularly sensitive to any suggestion that their sovereignty is in question.
At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the Chinese ambassador would be asked to explain “if there has been a change in China’s position on independence and to remind them We are not a “post-Soviet” country, but we are a country illegally occupied by the Soviet Union. “
His Estonian foreign minister, Magus Czuckner, said he wondered “why China has such a position or comment” about the Baltic states, which are members of the European Union and NATO. Ms. Mao’s comments were not enough, he said. “I hope there will be an explanation. We are not happy with the announcement.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles, like Czech foreign minister Jan Lipavsky, called Mr Lew’s comments “unacceptable”. Mr Borrell said Brussels also wanted further explanations from Beijing.
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn called Luxembourg’s remarks a “mistake” and said efforts were being made to calm the situation.
Mr Lu has been promoting a tough-talking style sometimes called “wolf warrior” diplomacy. It will be his third call-up to France’s Pier d’Orsay in the past three-and-a-half years.
Christopher Buckley Reporting from Taipei, Taiwan. Olivia King contributed research.