China has distanced itself from the remarks made by one of its ambassadors, Lu Shaye, who questioned the sovereignty of Ukraine and other former Soviet countries. Mr. Shaye’s comments last week caused widespread outrage and led to calls for Beijing to clarify its stance. On Monday, China’s foreign ministry stated that it respected the independence of all post-Soviet republics.
China is a significant ally of Russia and has not condemned President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last year. It sees itself as a major player in efforts to bring peace to Ukraine but has become an increasingly important trading partner for Russia amid Western sanctions prompted by the invasion. Many in the West doubt China’s impartiality on the issue.
In an interview for the French LCI network last week, Ambassador Lu was asked about China’s view of the status of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. The interviewer argued that under international law, the region was part of Ukraine.
Mr. Lu responded by suggesting that the issue was not clear-cut, and that countries such as Ukraine could not rely on international law to defend their sovereignty. He said, “Even these former Soviet countries don’t have an effective status under international law because there is no international agreement under international law to concretize their status as sovereign countries.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning rejected Mr. Lu’s position, saying Beijing respected the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all countries and upheld the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.
She said that while “the Soviet Union was a federal state and had the status of an entity of international law in its entirety in foreign affairs… this does not deny the fact that each member republic of the Soviet Union has the status of a sovereign state after the dissolution of the Soviet Union”.
The Chinese embassy in Paris later said in a statement that Mr. Lu’s remarks were a personal point of view and should not be over-interpreted. Three Baltic countries, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, have summoned China’s representatives to clarify Mr. Lu’s comments. Other European Union foreign ministers condemned the remarks, and were set to discuss them at a meeting of the 27-member bloc on Monday.
Mr. Lu has caused controversy in the past and is known as one of the “Wolf Warriors” of Chinese diplomacy for his abrasive style. He has several times been summoned by the French government to explain his remarks, including for suggesting that old people had been abandoned in care homes during the Covid-19 pandemic.