China says it respects sovereignty of former Soviet nations after envoy’s comments


European officials are preparing for talks on how to deal with China after a series of controversial events.

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China said on Monday it respects the independence of former Soviet nations after comments by its ambassador to France were deemed “unacceptable” in Europe.

This comes as the 27 members of the European Union are reassessing their diplomatic and economic relations with Beijing.

Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to France, told French media on Friday that countries that were once part of the Soviet Union had no status under international law. A transcript of the ambassadors’ remarks was withdrawn by the Chinese Embassy on Monday morning.

The comment drew criticism in several European capitals, particularly in the Baltic countries, which broke free from the USSR after its collapse in 1991.

“We are not ex-Soviet countries. We are countries that were illegally occupied by the Soviet Union,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters in Luxembourg.

This sentiment was echoed by Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna: “We are an independent country, a member of the EU, of NATO. I hope there will be an explanation.

Also speaking in Luxembourg, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said the Chinese ambassador’s remarks were “completely unacceptable”.

“We denounce such a statement and we hope that the bosses of this ambassador will clear things up,” Lipavsky said.

It is in this context that the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mao Ning, said On Monday, “China respects the status of the former Soviet republics as sovereign countries after the dissolution of the Soviet Union”.

This is just the latest episode in a series of contentious events between China and the European Union.

The EU will “recalibrate” its strategy vis-à-vis China

Returning from a visit to China earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron said the EU should have its own policy on Taiwan and avoid following the US agenda on the matter. He later added that being an ally does not mean being a vassalreinforcing the idea of ​​an independent European policy.

Macron’s intervention was criticized in the United States, but also in Germany and other European nations. Overall, some EU countries fear clashing with the US, especially given its critical security and defense role.

Macron’s comments also revealed a division within the EU over what kind of relationship the bloc wants with China. Some fear antagonizing China and endangering deep economic ties, while others favor the transatlantic alliance.

The subject will be debated between the 27 heads of state, including Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, at a meeting in June.

“We are going to reassess and recalibrate our strategy towards China,” European Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said on Monday.

However, this is likely to be a long and difficult discussion and it remains to be seen whether the bloc will be united on the issue.

In 2022, China was the EU’s largest source of imports and the EU’s third-largest buyer of goods, underscoring Beijing’s economic importance to Europe. This is particularly relevant when economic growth in the EU is vulnerable to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in March that China is a systemic rival, an economic competitor and a strategic partner. This then applies differently to the various policies. For example, on climate issues, the EU thinks that China can be a strategic partner; but when it comes to providing market access, the bloc complains that Beijing is a competitor.

However, combining all these different dynamics could be difficult to achieve.

“Managing this relationship and having an open and frank exchange with our Chinese counterparts is a key part of what I would call the diplomatic risk reduction of our relationship with China,” von der Leyen said ahead of a trip to Beijing. .

“We will never hesitate to raise the deeply concerning issues that I have already outlined. But I think we need to leave room for a discussion about a more ambitious partnership and how we can make competition fairer and more disciplined,” she added.

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