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China Backtracks Envoy’s Remarks Denying Sovereignty of ex-Soviet States After European Backlash

China has disavowed remarks made by its envoy to France that questioned the sovereignty of Ukraine and other former Soviet member states after triggering a backlash from European leaders.

China’s embassy in Paris said Tuesday that ambassador Lu Shaye’s comments on Ukraine were “not a statement of policy, but a personal expression of opinion” that should not be over-interpreted by any parties.

“China respects the sovereign status of the republics after the disintegration of the Soviet Union,” the embassy said in a statement.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Beijing reaffirmed its stance on the Russia-Ukraine war, saying that it was willing to work with the international community “to promote a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis.”

This came after Lu’s interview with French media on April 21, where he said that Crimea was historically a part of Russia and that ex-Soviet states have no effective status in international law, sparking outrage among European capitals.

“In international law, even these ex-Soviet Union countries do not have the status, the effective status, in international law, because there is no international agreement to materialize their status of a sovereign country,” he said.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning rejected Lu’s remarks, saying that Beijing respects “the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries” and upholds the principles of the United Nations Charter.

“The Soviet Union was a federal state and, as a whole, was one subject of international law in international relations. This does not negate the republics’ status as sovereign countries after the Soviet Union’s dissolution,” Mao told reporters.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union’s communist empire in 1991, its former republics, such as Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, have become independent sovereign states. The three Baltic states are currently NATO and European Union members.

‘Unacceptable Remarks’

Josep Borrell, the chief of EU foreign policy, told reporters on Monday that Beijing’s move to distance itself from Lu’s “unacceptable remarks” was “good news.”

“When it comes to Russia’s unjustified war against Ukraine, China, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has a responsibility to defend the United Nations Charter,” Borrell said.

Russia China
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping toast during their dinner at The Palace of the Facets a building in the Moscow Kremlin, Russia, on March 21, 2023. (Pavel Byrkin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Beijing has refrained from condemning the Russian war in Ukraine and criticized U.S. sanctions against Russia. The leaders of both nations proclaimed a “no limits” partnership last year, which states that the CCP backed Russia’s opposition to the enlargement of NATO.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on Twitter that Lu’s remarks had shown why the Baltic states could not trust China in mediating peace in Ukraine.

“If anyone is still wondering why the Baltic States don’t trust China to ‘broker peace in Ukraine,’ here’s a Chinese ambassador arguing that Crimea is Russian and our countries’ borders have no legal basis,” Landsbergis stated.

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania criticized Lu’s remarks and demanded answers from Beijing.

“Remarks by the Chinese Ambassador in France concerning international law and sovereignty of nations are completely unacceptable,” Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia Edgars Rinkevics said on Twitter, demanding for China’s “complete retraction” of Lu’s remarks.

The French Foreign Ministry on April 23 affirmed its “full solidarity” with all the former Soviet countries, which it said had acquired independence “after decades of oppression.”

“On Ukraine specifically, it was internationally recognized within borders including Crimea in 1991 by the entire international community, including China,” a French Foreign Ministry spokesperson said.

Alex Wu and Reuters contributed to this report.

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