by Ambra Visentin

The Chinese ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, expressed alarming views on Friday when he questioned the sovereignty of the 14 countries of the former Soviet Union in an interview with the French television channel LCI. The ambassador also noted noting that the question of Crimea: ‘It depends on how the problem is perceived. Crimea has always been part of Russia. It was Khrushchev who gave Crimea to Ukraine in Soviet times,’ the Chinese diplomat said, calling for an end to the ‘bickering’ over post-Soviet borders.

In response, the French Foreign Ministry expressed its dismay at the ambassador’s revisionist statement and called on Beijing to clarify its position. Ukraine was internationally recognised ‘within its borders, which include Crimea, by the entire international community, including China, as a new member state of the UN in 1991 at the time of the dissolution of the USSR’, the ministry said, adding that the annexation of Crimea was ‘illegal under international law.’

The ministry also expressed its full solidarity with all allies and partners concerned ‘who have achieved their long-awaited independence after decades of oppression’. Ukraine’s ambassador to France, Vadym Omelchenko, also reacted to the Chinese diplomat’s statement, saying that he had ‘obvious problems with geography’ or that his statement contradicted Beijing’s ‘official efforts to establish peace in Ukraine on the basis of international law and the purposes and principles of the UN Charter’. The foreign ministers of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia responded to Shai’s statement by calling his words ‘unacceptable’.

On Monday, the Chinese government distanced itself from its ambassador’s comments. ‘China respects the sovereign status of former Soviet countries after the dissolution of the Soviet Union,’ said Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman. ‘China respects the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries and supports the purposes and principles of the UN Charter,’ she said, recalling that China was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Without referring to Lu directly, the spokeswoman criticised the fact that ‘some media misinterpret China’s position on the Ukrainian issue and sow discord in relations between China and the countries concerned. We should remain vigilant in this regard.’

Meanwhile, Lu Shaye was summoned to the French Foreign Ministry. The meeting was an opportunity to make ‘decisive clarifications’, he said. This is the third time the 58-year-old ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Ministry for provocative remarks. But it is the first time that Beijing has unequivocally distanced itself from him. On Monday, Lu was received by Foreign Minister Luis Vassy’s chief of cabinet for the clarifying interview. Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna was absent, attending the EU foreign ministers’ council in Luxembourg.

Cover image: CCBC on Flickr