In an interview with the Swiss journalist Darius Rochebin on the air of the French TV channel La Chaîne Info, the Chinese ambassador to France Lu Shaye said that the former Soviet countries «do not have an effective status in international law.»
«In international law, even these countries of the former Soviet Union do not have a valid status, because there is no international agreement that would materialize their status as a sovereign country,» he said.
When asked whether he considers Crimea to be Ukrainian, the Chinese ambassador said that: «It depends on how you perceive the problem, because it is not so simple.» Lou Shaye also added that «Crimea was originally Russian.»
Although the Chinese embassy later removed the transcript of the conversation from its official WeChat account, excerpts were still widely available on the Twitter-like Weibo platform.
Deputy Director of the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mao Ning said, noting that her position reflected the official position of the Chinese government:
«China respects the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all countries and supports the goals and principles of the United Nations Charter.»
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia summoned the Chinese ambassador due to the statement of the Chinese diplomat in France, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Gabrielius Landsbergis noted that in connection with such statements, the Baltic states do not trust China as a «mediator» in the settlement of the war in Ukraine.
Advisor to the Office of the President of Ukraine, Mykhailo Podolyak, commented on Lu Shaye’s statements as follows:
«All post-Soviet countries have a clear sovereign status recorded in international law. Except, by the way, Russia, which fraudulently took a seat in the UN Security Council. It is surprising to hear an absurd version of the «history of Crimea» from a representative of a country that is pedantic about its thousand-year history. If you want to be a big political player, don’t repeat the propaganda of Russian outsiders.»
Let’s analyze the theses voiced by the Chinese ambassador.
«Former Soviet Union countries do not have legal status»: is it true?
All former Soviet Union countries have passed all the legal aspects of gaining independence. In particular, 84% of the population of Ukraine came to the independence referendum on December 1, 1991, and 90% of them voted «Yes».
We asked Oleksandr Kuchyk, deputy director of the Center for International Security and Partnerships, to comment on this thesis:
«The second half of the 1980s was marked by a «parade of sovereignties». Disintegration processes in the USSR took place most actively at first in the Baltic states, which were the first to restore their sovereignty, and then to declare independence.
It is worth noting that the treaty on the creation of Soviet socialist republics provided for free exit from the USSR at the initiative of the republic itself. However, in practice problems arise at the stage of implementation.
The words that the former Soviet countries do not have a legal status have no basis, at least in view of the fact that each member state of the USSR went through its own legal path of leaving the country.
If we talk about Ukraine, on July 16, 1990, the highest representative body of the country, the parliament [Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic — ed.], adopted the Declaration on State Sovereignty. The document stated Ukraine’s right to sovereignty on its own territory. August 24, 1991 — the Act of Declaration of Independence, which confirmed Ukraine’s desire to get out of the threatening political situation that had developed: the coup d’état in Moscow testified to an attempt to introduce a dictatorship.
Some say that the document was adopted under extreme conditions, but Western diplomacy carefully approached this decision. The recognition of the state independence of Ukraine in the world began on December 2, after the referendum held on December 1, 1991, in which more than 90% of voters supported the Act of Declaration of Independence.
There are those who try to read between the lines: the Chinese ambassador meant that Russia is the legal successor of the USSR, and therefore has rights on the territory of the former countries of the USSR. But Russia also recognized the independence of all states that were formed on the territory of the disintegrated Soviet Union. Then, based on the ambassador’s words, we are actually talking about the denunciation of the entire system of international legal documents. Also, if none of the countries has the right, then neither does Russia. Does he make an exception for Russia?”
«The fact of diplomatic recognition of all post-Soviet countries already demonstrates their legal status. What else is there to talk about?», — notes philosopher Oksana Dovgopolova, Nonresidential Visiting Researcher Affiliation at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Was Crimea Russian?
«Statements about «originally Russian Crimea» are completely untrue. Written sources of the history of the peninsula provide an opportunity to trace the past of Crimea since ancient times. It was then that the first states were formed on its territory, such as, for example, the Bosporan kingdom, created by the Greeks.
The population of Crimea was multi-ethnic, at different times it was inhabited by Cimmerians, Taurians, Scythians, Alans, etc. At that time, there was no Russia. In 1223, the Mongols first appeared there, then Crimea became part of the Golden Horde. There were also Italian settlements on the peninsula. Representatives of various ethnic groups formed the Crimean Tatar nation, which created its own khanate (since 1475). It ended up in vassal dependence on the Ottoman Empire. And in 1783, it was annexed by the Russian Empire. Only from that time, it is possible to talk about a kind of «Russian Crimea»: the imperial Russian authorities began deporting the indigenous population of Crimea, and settling it with representatives of other nations, both Russians and Christians from the Ottoman Empire, and other emigrants. The peninsula was under the Ottomans for three centuries, and it was part of the Russian Empire for only 134 years. Then it was part of the RSFSR for 33.5 years, and in 1954 it was transferred to part of the Ukrainian SSR. For 60 years, Crimea was Ukrainian, and in 2014 it was occupied by the Russian Federation. Grossly violating international law, Moscow announced the annexation of the peninsula, but the international community did not recognize this illegal act. Even historians of many countries do not recognize Moscow’s imperial fictions about the «primordial Russian Crimea», — explains Ihor Burkut, candidate of historical sciences, and political scientist.
«The main thing for everyone, in particular the Chinese ambassador, is that Ukraine is a country recognized by the international community within the borders of 1991. Recognized by same Russia. To start counting how many years this or that territory was part of some state in the past is to accept the logic of a country that has violated its own international obligations. This is all that is needed to understand the position of the Chinese ambassador,» adds Oksana Dovgopolova.
We would like to remind you that the European Union does not recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and condemns this violation of international law. This position is based on the UN Charter, which clearly states that the territory of a state cannot be seized by another state by military force, as well as on the Helsinki Final Act, in which the parties that signed it declared their intention to respect the inviolability of borders and territorial integrity.
What was the purpose of this statement?
«It is important that the ambassador is the personification of the state’s position, he cannot speak his own thoughts. Perhaps this statement was an attempt to make a provocation and see how society would react to it. As we have seen, the Chinese ambassador caused a scandal in political circles and provoked a protest position in Ukraine and other states that were once part of the USSR.
This statement can also be considered in the context of Xi Jinping’s next conversation with Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Some experts believe that the Chinese leadership tried to solve this issue in this way,» says Oleksandr Kuchyk.
The statements of the Chinese ambassador to France are very serious, as diplomats are representatives of their country and embody their positions. Words about Russian Crimea play into Russian aggression and propaganda, and words about the lack of legal status in former Soviet countries cast doubt on the right of states to exist in general.