Beijing backs away from ambassador’s comments on ex-Soviet states

Beijing backs away from ambassador’s comments on ex-Soviet states

April 24, 2023

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London: Beijing appeared to distance itself from controversial comments made by its ambassador in France, Lu Shaye, who sparked outrage across Europe when he said the Baltic states have no effective status as sovereign countries.

Lu Shaye’s comments on France’s free-to-air television La Chaîne Info also brought into question Beijing’s attempts to broker peace between Russia and Ukraine.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning.Credit: AP

More than 70 MPs representing the UK and Europe have written to the French government demanding the Chinese ambassador in Paris be declared persona non grata in light of his comments.

Beijing’s envoy to France had been asked about the status of Crimea, which Russia’s Vladimir Putin annexed in 2014, and responded that it depends as Crimea was “first Russian”. Lu then went on to generally question the status of post-Soviet states.

“These ex-USSR countries don’t have actual status in international law because there is no international agreement to materialise their sovereign status,” Lu said.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a regular media briefing on Monday that her remarks on sovereignty represents China’s official government stance.

Lu Shaye, Chinese ambassador to France, has provoked a furious response to his comments about the independence of ex-Soviet states.Credit: Getty

“China respects the status of the former Soviet republics as sovereign countries after the Soviet Union’s dissolution,” Mao said at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

The ambassador’s comments caused consternation as they were made following French President Emmanuel Macron’s three-day state visit to Beijing, after which he urged Europe to achieve “strategic autonomy” from the United States and said the continent should avoid becoming involved in any conflict between the two superpowers over Taiwan, which China has threatened to invade by force.

Macron, visiting Belgium for an offshore-wind summit, said: “It’s not a diplomat’s place to use this sort of language.”

“Full solidarity to the countries that have been attacked in the interpretation of their history and borders.

“We stand side-by-side with our European friends and allies who have had such a painful past, in the 20th century as well as in the 19th century, and who today are sovereign states whose borders are inviolable.”

China’s embassy in France issued a statement saying that the ambassador’s remarks were not a statement of politics “but an expression of personal views” and “should not be subject to over-interpretation”. It removed a transcript of Lu’s television interview from its website.

European foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg said they would be demanding an explanation from Beijing.

Gabrielius Landsbergis, foreign minister of Lithuania, whose country has taken a strong stance against China on Taiwan, said his country’s scepticism had been vindicated.

“Later today, three Baltic states will be summoning representatives … to ask for clarification – has China’s position changed on independence – and to remind him that we’re not post-Soviet countries, we’re countries that were illegally occupied by the Soviet Union,” Landsbergis said.

“We do not trust China as a possible mediator [between Russia and Ukraine], it definitely has chosen a side. They’ve sided with Russia, politically.”

Asked what the foreign ministers meeting would conclude on the Chinese ambassador’s comments, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said: “It will be for sure, a strong position in order to clarify the official thinking of the Chinese government.”

Estonia’s newly appointed foreign minister Margus Tsahkna said he had summoned China’s representative.

“We asked why China has such a position about the Baltic states,” he said.

“We are independent sovereign countries. I hope that there will be an explanation. We are not satisfied.”

The Czech Republic’s foreign minister Jan Lipavsky said the Chinese ambassador’s comments were “totally unacceptable”.

“We are denouncing such a statement. It is a surprising statement from an official from any state who should understand how international relationships are built.”

Seventy-two MPs from across Europe and the UK signed an open letter published in Le Monde that said the Chinese ambassador’s comments were aggressive, violated international law, and were a threat to Europe’s security.

“Such comments go well beyond the boundaries of acceptable diplomatic discourse,”

“This is wolf warrior activity at its worst and should not go unanswered.”

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