Hong Kong (CNN) European nations are demanding answers from Beijing after its top diplomat in Paris questioned the sovereignty of the former Soviet republics in comments that undermine China’s efforts to be seen as a potential mediator between Russia and Ukraine.
Comments by of China Le Che, the ambassador to France, said during a televised interview that the former Soviet states “have no effective status in international law,” causing a diplomatic shock, particularly in the Baltic states.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis confirmed on Monday that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia will call Chinese representatives and ask for an explanation.
Officials from Ukraine, Moldova, France and the European Union all responded to Lu’s comments with their own criticisms.
Lu said the above while answering the question CrimeaIt was part of Ukraine that was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.
“Even these former Soviet states have no effective status in international law because there is no international agreement to enforce their status as sovereign states,” Lu said. Noting that the question of Crimea “depends on how the problem is perceived,” it was “initially Russian” and then “given to Ukraine during the Soviet era.”
These views appeared to deny the sovereignty of independent states and countries that became member states of the United Nations after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia’s Brutal Invasion of Ukraine Under President Vladimir Putin vision The country should be part of Russia.
China has so far refused to condemn Russia’s aggression in Ukraine or call for its troop withdrawal, instead insisting on restraint by “all sides” and accusing NATO of fueling the conflict. It also continues to deepen diplomatic and economic ties with Moscow.
EU foreign affairs chief Joseph Borrell responded on Sunday, calling it “unacceptable”.
“The EU can only assume that these announcements do not represent China’s official policy,” Borrell said in a statement. Report on Twitter.
According to Reuters, France also responded on Sunday, with its foreign ministry saying its “full solidarity” with all affected allies and calling on China to clarify whether the comments reflected its position.
Several leaders in former Soviet states, including Ukraine, were quick to hit back following the interview, which aired Friday on French station LCI.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Ringevics called for “an explanation from the Chinese side and a complete withdrawal of this statement.” Register on Twitter Saturday.
He promised to raise the issue during a meeting of EU foreign ministers expected to discuss relations with China.
Moldova is a small country on the southwestern border of Ukraine He got into a fight Russia’s invasion, he said, was “surprised” by Lew’s comments.
“We are surprised by Chinese (ambassador) statements questioning the sovereignty of countries declaring independence in 1991. Mutual respect and (territorial) integrity are key to Moldova-China relations,” the ministry said on its official Twitter account.
“Our expectations are that these announcements do not represent China’s official policy.”
“It is strange to hear such an absurd version of the ‘history of Crimea’ from a representative of a country that is careful about its thousand-year history,” said Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to Ukraine’s presidential administration. wrote on Twitter.
“If you want to be a major political player, don’t parrot the propaganda of Russian outsiders…”
Asked about Lu’s comments at a regular press conference on Monday, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said China respects the “sovereign statehood” of former Soviet Union countries.
“After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, China was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with relevant countries. China has always adhered to the principles of reciprocity and equality in promoting its friendly and cooperative bilateral relations,” the spokesperson said. Mao Ning said without directly asking questions about Lu’s comments.
China’s European Relations
It’s not the first time Lu — a prominent voice — has called out China’s aggression “Wolf Warrior” messengers — His comments have sparked controversy.
“He was a well-known provocateur,” said Jean-Pierre Gabeston, a professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University.
“But he’s a diplomat, he’s representing his government, so it reflects some thinking in China about the issue,” he said. However, he said “this is not the time for China to jeopardize its relationship” with France.
The comments put Beijing in the spotlight at a particularly critical moment for its European diplomacy.
Relations have been strained as Europe takes a more relaxed view of China Strengthening relations with Russia And refuses to condemn Putin’s invasion.
Beijing has sought to repair its image in recent months, highlighting its neutrality in the conflict. Desire to play a “constructive role”. In dialogue and negotiations, it is further fueling debate in European capitals about how to calibrate its relationship with China, a key economic partner.
That debate intensified following a visit to Beijing this month French President Emmanuel MacronSigning cooperation agreements with China during a visit, he framed it as an opportunity to work with Beijing to bring peace to Ukraine.
Voices in former Soviet states, many of which remember being under communist dictatorships, have been among the most critical of such an approach in Europe.
“If anyone is still wondering why the Baltic countries don’t trust China to broker peace in Ukraine, here is a Chinese ambassador arguing that Crimea is Russian and our countries’ borders have no legal basis,” said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Landsbergis. He wrote on Twitter Saturday following Lu’s interview.
“China has increasingly succeeded in being seen as a responsible power that can play a constructive role in a peace process in Ukraine,” said Moritz Rudolph, a fellow and research scholar at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School in the US. ”
“If the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (PRC) does not distance itself from Ambassador Lu’s words, it remains to be seen whether the leadership in Beijing realizes how damaging those words will be to its ambitions in Europe,” he said.
China’s “official position and practice” contradicts Lu’s comments, saying China does not recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea or any territory it has annexed since 2014.
Others suggested Lu’s comments could shed light on Beijing’s true diplomatic priorities.
For Russia, relinquishing control of Crimea is widely seen as a non-starter to any possible peace settlement in Ukraine. According to Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center, a Washington-based think tank, Beijing may have difficulty answering this question directly.
“It’s impossible for China to answer this question. China’s relationship with Russia is where its influence comes from,” he said, noting that Lu could have provided a “better answer.”
“Between sabotaging China’s relationship with Russia and angering Europe, (Lu) chose the latter.”
CNN’s Radina Gigova, Xiaofei Xu and Wayne Chang contributed reporting.