European states reacted with fury to a Chinese envoy questioning the independence of ex-Soviet states, tainting China’s push to court leaders in the region and burnish its credentials to broker peace after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Some “ex-Soviet Union countries” don’t have effective status under international law, Chinese Ambassador to France Lu Shaye said in an interview aired Friday on French network LCI.
“There is no international agreement to realize their status as a sovereign nation,” he said, after being questioned if he considers Crimea, a peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, part of Ukraine.
After the comments, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia announced plans to summon the top Chinese diplomats in their nations to explain the comments. All three are former members of the Soviet bloc, which collapsed in 1991.
Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs said in a Saturday post on Twitter the coordinated move was in response to Lu’s “unacceptable statements.” Margus Tsahkna, his counterpart in Estonia, called the comments “false and a misinterpretation of history.”
The diplomatic firestorm threatens to overshadow China’s attempts to portray itself as a peacemaker in Russia’s war in Ukraine — and to improve trade and diplomatic relations with the European Union. French President Emmanuel Macron, president of the European commission Ursula von der Leyen and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock have visited Beijing in recent weeks.
It also questions Macron’s initiative to work with China to establish a framework for negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, which Bloomberg News previously reported, citing people familiar with the plans.
France’s foreign ministry said it has taken note of the ambassador’s comments with “dismay.”
“It remains for China to say whether these comments reflect its position, which we hope is not the case,” the ministry said, while stressing its “full solidarity with all our allies and partners in question, who have obtained their long-awaited independence after decades of oppression.”
The Chinese embassy in France and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to queries from Bloomberg News outside of normal operating hours.
Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis cited Lu’s comments in a tweet Saturday to explain “why the Baltic states don’t trust China to ‘broker peace in Ukraine.’”
Taiwan, which is seeking European support as Beijing seeks to peel off its remaining diplomatic allies, voiced support for Lithuania’s position. Foreign Minister Joseph Wu responded to Landsbergis’s tweet Sunday, voicing solidarity with the Baltic states.
It’s not the first time Lu has stirred controversy with his remarks. The outspoken ambassador has in the past embraced his role as a “wolf warrior,” referring to a more assertive, confrontational form of diplomacy which China appeared to have been shifting away from.
Last year, he called for Taiwanese to be “re-educated” and blamed “foreign forces” for fueling mass protests that erupted in November over China’s strict Covid policies.
–With assistance from Adam Majendie, Colum Murphy, Debby Wu and Jenny Che.