Since Ukraine’s suspension of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement triggered mass protests last year, turbulent conditions in the country have attracted persistent attention among the people of China.
1. Ukrainian Political Changes Influenced by Geopolitics of Russia and the West
The Yanukovych administration’s decision to suspend signing the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement was a miserable yet pragmatic choice made in accordance with the country’s internal and external conditions. It eased the pressing economic and financial difficulties in the country’s face, took into consideration the expectations of those who want to develop closer ties with Europe, and avoided closing the door to integration into Europe. It was the EU and United States who could not retain their composure in such a development. They were upset about Ukraine re-developing traditional ties with Moscow and former Soviet Union countries, worrying that it may embark on a trip of no return, fearing that the strategic encirclement network they have been building to contain Russia may be torn apart in Ukraine, resulting in the invalidation of all previous efforts to weaken and contain Russia. Based on such psychology, the EU and US completely ignored the Yanukovych authorities’ troubles, pressed them forcefully to speed up integration with Europe, and provided moral and capital supports to opposition forces. Some ranking officials even showed up on the spot to encourage protestors. At the same time, they continuously mounted pressure on the Yanukovych government, pressing it to make repeated concessions to the opposition, turning these protests, which were initially targeted at the government’s suspension of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, into a “color revolution” that ended in the overthrow of state power and regime change, as well as Yanukovych’s fall and ultimate exile. Since the West and Russia are still wrestling over whether to recognize the interim government in Ukraine, the former rivalry of factions within Ukraine over whether to go “eastward” or “westward” has evolved into a face-to-face geopolitical standoff between EU-US and Russia.
2. Fears Grow Over Political Situation in Ukraine
Since China and Ukraine established diplomatic relations, the two countries have seen continuous and steady progress in bilateral ties. Even when Ukraine adopted an all-round “westward turn”, its leadership and people shared a strong desire for developing friendly relations with China. Sino-Ukrainian relations have witnessed even more rapid progress after Viktor Yanukovych assumed the presidency in 2010. Bilateral trade surpassed $10 billion in 2011, reaching $11 billion in 2013 and setting a new record. China is Ukraine’s second largest trading partner. Ukraine is China’s third largest trading partner in the Commonwealth of Independent States. During President Yanukovych’s December 2013 visit to China, leaders of both countries reached important consensuses on deepening Sino-Ukrainian strategic partnership, and developing cooperation in all fields. The two sides signed $8 billion worth of contracts involving airplane, shipbuilding, port facilities, energy, transport facilities, and agricultural cooperation, and planned to raise the volume of bilateral trade to $20 billion by 2015. If the political situation in Ukraine remains turbulent and cannot be stabilized in the near future, there will definitely be negative impacts on bilateral collaboration in all areas. Many already decided projects and those to be decided may be postponed, or need further reassurance and implementation. However, no matter whether Ukraine leans eastward or westward, neither the West nor Russia can meet all its development needs. Plus, the strong mutual complementariness between the two countries’ economic structures and resources is an objective reality. In the foreseeable future, developing strategic partnership with China and expanding mutually beneficial cooperation in all fields will still be an indispensable practical choice for Ukraine. Neither side will change its policies toward the other.
3. China Is A Responsible Major Power
There is a special closeness between China and Ukraine in spite of the geographic distance. The political turmoil in Ukraine is a matter of serious concern among the average Chinese. China maintains a neutral and impartial stance regarding the political crisis: It adheres to the principle of non-interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs, and believes the evolution of the situation has its own causes. China condemns the extremist forces’ acts of violence, urges all parties involved in the conflicts to resolve disputes peacefully in the framework of law, actively conducts consultations with such permanent members of the United Nations Security Council as Russia, US and France about the situation in Ukraine, and promote the international community’s exploration for a solution to the crisis. Given the historical and cultural connections between Russia and Ukraine as well as their agreement on Russian military presence in Ukraine, the Ukraine issue has both convoluted historical context and present complexity. Therefore, the Chinese side takes a fair and impartial stand regarding the issue, and believes Ukraine and Russia can find a solution together. China opposes some countries’ inclination to use sanctions or threaten with the use of sanctions, and hopes all parties involved can take moves that can prevent the situation from worsening further, make joint efforts in finding a political solution, and restore normal order in Ukraine, and stability in the region and the world over, as soon as possible.
Zhao Mingwen is a Senior Research Fellow at the China Institute of International Studies