China handles complex Ukraine crisis with caution, principle

By Yang Sheng, Chen Qingqing and Fan Anqi (Global Times) 09:02, February 23, 2022

The Ukraine crisis sees new change as Russia has decided to recognize two regions in eastern Ukraine as "independent and sovereign states," and the UN Security Council has met on the issue, with China calling on all parties to continue dialogue and consultations and seek reasonable solutions.

The situation shows that Russia has seen through the weakness of the West led by the US and decided to take more direct actions to push the US and NATO to respond to its security concerns, and by recognizing the two regions as sovereign states, Russian forces would be able to enter the regions openly.

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for the peaceful settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, in accordance with the Minsk Agreements, as endorsed by the Security Council in resolution 2202 (2015).

China is concerned about the development of the Ukraine issue and its position on the Ukraine issue has been consistent, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a phone call upon request on Tuesday. Any country's legitimate security concerns should be respected and the purposes and principles of the UN Charter should be upheld, Wang said.

All parties concerned should continue dialogue and consultation, and seek reasonable solutions to address each other's concerns on the basis of equality and mutual respect, Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun saidat the UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday.

Zhang underlined that the current situation in Ukraine "is a result of many complex factors. China always makes its own position according to the merits of the matter itself. We believe that all countries should solve international disputes by peaceful means in line with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter."

China has close strategic ties with Russia, but whether it is about the most recent situation or the Crimea issue in the past, China has always stayed neutral and urged relevant parties to handle the situation through talks, said Chinese experts, noting that this stance is more constructive and less harmful to the ongoing tension, as the crisis was caused by complicated reasons, including NATO's aggressive expansion that caused concrete security threats to Russia and other non-NATO countries in the region. So it would be unfair to merely blame and accuse one side.

After the Cold War, Russia showed interest in joining NATO but the request was declined, and NATO promised Russia that it would not expand, but failed to keep its promise. The NATO expansion has brought heavy pressure on Russia as NATO has deployed weapons and missile defense systems in countries around Russia, and this has undermined the nuclear strategic balance in Europe.

More seriously, NATO launched military intervention to totally break former Yugoslavia - a sovereign country - into pieces. All of these have forced Russia to choose to take such tough actions today. So the crisis was caused by complicated reasons, said Chinese experts.

They noted that in the NATO's military action against former Yugoslavia, the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was bombed and three Chinese journalists were killed, and China is now facing similar pressure from the US in the Asian-Pacific region. That's why Chinese mainstream public opinion on NATO tends to be negative and China's stance is not the same as that of the West.

Russia's plan and China's stance

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed two decrees recognizing "the Lugansk People's Republic (LPR)" and "the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR)" as independent and sovereign states, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday, "The reason why Russia took such actions is that Putin wants to make the US and NATO follow Russia's step in this strategic game as Russia is strongly unsatisfied with the US and NATO's negative response to Russia's security concerns about the issue of NATO expansion, and Putin has seen through the weakness of the West."

Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, the US has uttered a lot of tough words and made a series of military deployments in Europe, but its political stance is very weak as Washington repeatedly stressed that it won't go to war with Russia on the issue, so this made Russia decide to impose a "stress test" on the US and the EU, to see how the West would further react, and whether Russia's security concerns would be responded to effectively, Cui noted.

As Moscow asked the US and NATO for security guarantees, Western countries ignored Russia's fundamental concerns and nothing has changed in their position, Putin noted on Monday.

Russia's demands to the US and NATO for security include: Ukraine should not join NATO; a limit to the deployment of troops and weapons in NATO's eastern flank, in effect returning NATO forces to where they were stationed in 1997.

"The situation is getting increasingly complicated and unpredictable," Yang Jin, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"By recognizing the LPR and DPR, from Russia's perspective, it would be legitimate for its military forces to enter relevant regions, as these two 'states' could invite Russian troops to enter their territories for peacekeeping or other missions," Yang said.

Putin said on Tuesday that "Russia has done everything to preserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine" by fighting for the implementation of the 2015 Minsk Agreements, but all the efforts ended up in vain, according to Xinhua.

Yang said if the 2015 Minsk Agreements had been fully implemented, Russia won't be concerned that Ukraine would join NATO. But the US and other forces overtly agree but covertly oppose the Minsk Agreements to push Ukraine to join NATO or try to deploy military forces in the country. This has caused Russia's tough reactions.

Cui Heng, an assistant research fellow at the Center for Russian Studies of East China Normal University, said that Ukraine used to be a very prosperous country in Europe, but its situation is getting increasingly difficult with a declining economy and worsening security, and even losing territories. A key reason is that Ukrainian politicians have chosen the wrong strategy amid the confrontation between Russia and the West in recent years.

"If the country located in the middle between Russia and the West takes side and is hostile to one side instead of being neutral, it will definitely cause tragedy," he noted.

The Chinese analyst said China has close strategic ties with Russia, and also has many investments and long-standing cooperation with Ukraine, so China will definitely stay neutral and keep its principles related to sovereign states' territorial integrity.

Cui Hongjian said, "We believe that the most urgent task at the moment is to urge relevant parties to talk and not to have any conflict. Second, Russia and Ukraine could actually solve the problem face to face. Third, the West, especially the US, should stop further intensifying the tension by making further military deployments and imposing more sanctions."

Most major Western powers including the US, the UK, the EU, Canada, Australia and Japan have condemned Russia's latest move and claim that they will impose new sanctions against Moscow.

What's next?

"The situation in eastern Ukraine is undergoing major changes," the Chinese Embassy in Ukraine said in a statement on its website on Tuesday.

"The Chinese Embassy in Ukraine reminds Chinese citizens and Chinese-funded enterprises in Ukraine to pay attention to the safety notices issued locally and not to go to unstable regions."

Chinese experts predicted that an all-out war is still unlikely as the massive military operation will cause the situation out of control, so the conflict might focus in the specific regions rather than expand to the whole country.

What the West could do is very limited, and the US prefers to increase military deterrence against Russia but this is not what the EU wants. In terms of what sanctions would be imposed on Russia, Western countries will coordinate to reach a final conclusion.

Chinese experts also predicted that the US would place more resources in Europe than in the Asia-Pacific region in the future due to the changing geopolitical situation in Ukraine.

At least in the next few years, the US will have to focus on Europe, and the "Indo-Pacific Strategy" will be reduced to an empty shelf and a slogan. The US has always said that it wants strategic competition, but unexpectedly, the arena of fierce strategic competition will be in Europe rather than in the Indo-Pacific, Li Haidong, a professor from the Institute of International Relations of China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"If the US insists on talking about the Indo-Pacific at this juncture, doing so will mean facing another collapsing end like it had faced in Afghanistan. I don't think the American policy elites will be so stupid," Li said.

There are voices from the West that have tried to distort China's stance on the crisis, and compare the Ukraine crisis with the Taiwan question. But Chinese analysts said the two cases are entirely different, as Taiwan has never been a sovereign state and the Taiwan question is China's internal affairs instead of an international issue, and China's approach to promoting and realizing its national reunification has nothing to do with the Ukraine crisis.

On Western media linking the Ukraine crisis with the Taiwan question, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a routine press conference on Tuesday that "it's an irrefutable historical and juridical fact that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China and the one-China principle is a recognized norm in international relations."

"The Chinese people have staunch determination, firm will, and strong ability to defend their national sovereignty," Wang said.

(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Liang Jun)


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