Beijing was forced to back down after its ambassador to France caused an uproar in Europe at the weekend by questioning the legal status of ex-Soviet states and Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea.
China’s foreign ministry on Monday contradicted remarks by Lu Shayi, who has infuriated European capitals and fueled mistrust over Beijing’s ambitions to mediate the war in Ukraine by suggesting that former Soviet states lack “an effective status under international law.”
Lu added that the issue of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, “was not easy to answer with a few words.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said at a press conference on Monday: “After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, China was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with relevant countries.
“China respects the sovereign status of the republics after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.”
After Le’s remarks, which he made in an interview with the French news channel LCI, the French Foreign Ministry asked Beijing to clarify its position. Mykhailo Podolak, Ukraine’s presidential advisor, called Low’s version of Crimean history “ridiculous”.
Asked whether China would retract Lu’s comments, Mao replied: “What I can say is that my answer to the above question represents the official position of the Chinese government.”
Analysts noted that the State Department’s response represented a repudiation of the remarks by Lu, who has earned a reputation as one of China’s “wolf warriors” diplomats known for their combative style.
He would have said that “the countries of the former Soviet Union do not have an effective status under international law because there is no international agreement to give concrete character to their status as a sovereign state.”
“Legally , [Lu’s stance] “This is a mistake that is inconsistent with the position that the Chinese government has stated many times,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. Politically, it leads to a further deterioration in relations with the countries of Eastern Europe, and has the potential to have a ripple effect on the countries of Central Asia.
The three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia said they would summon senior Chinese diplomats on Tuesday to protest Lu’s remarks, which were denounced by several ministers.
Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s foreign minister, said the remarks were “totally unacceptable” and showed why the Baltic states did not trust Beijing’s intentions as a peace broker in Ukraine.
Latvia’s foreign ministry noted that Lu’s comments “clearly contradict” China’s stance of supporting “state sovereignty, independence and territorial indivisibility”.
Italy’s Antonio Tajani said he disagreed with the ambassador’s remarks, adding that China should “respect everyone”. [EU] Member States”.
EU foreign minister Josep Borrell said before the talks that EU foreign ministers planned to discuss Lu’s comments at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday as part of a broader conference to “assess and reset” the bloc’s stance toward Beijing.
But China’s efforts to walk back the ambassador’s claims are unlikely to satisfy the Baltic states, which argue they were never part of the Soviet Union because they were illegally annexed. Most Western countries did not recognize this annexation.
“Lithuania never joined the Soviet Union. Moscow illegally occupied our lands, so we resisted until we got our independence back and the Red Army came home. We are not post-Soviet, and we have never been Soviet,” Landsbergis wrote on Twitter.
A group of more than 80 parliamentarians from different European countries have signed a petition calling on the French government to declare Le “persona non grata”, meaning they will not recognize him as a diplomat.
Speaking before the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s briefing, Borrell said the EU will make a “strong stance” in response. Charles Michel, the European Council president who presides over the bloc’s 27 leaders’ summits, said EU and China policy will be on the official agenda for the next meeting in June.
Regarding Ukraine, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has not dealt with Crimea directly, saying only that its position is “clear and consistent”.
“We are ready to continue working with the international community to make our own contribution to the political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis,” the spokesperson said.
The full transcript of the ambassador’s interview was uploaded to the WeChat account of the Chinese embassy in France on Monday, but only hours later it was no longer accessible. Mao denied any knowledge of this.
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