Most of the western and Ukrainian politicians believe that China is a close ally of Russia, but this is not quite the case. It is necessary to understand clearly that China has its strategic interests in foreign relations and cooperates with various countries, if it is useful for China. Today's Russia-China relations include, first of all, cooperation in the production of weapons, raw materials, in international politics and even in the development of hybrid strategies against the military superiority of the West, joint military exercises (even in waters not far from NATO countries).
China supports Russia politically and diplomatically, on the basis of China's current geopolitical interests, providing significant support by abstaining in voting in the UN Security Council to prevent Russia's official condemnation. China obviously does not want to distance itself from Russia economically, as the corresponding official statements regarding the strengthening of strategic economic partnership with Russia read. However, in reality, China's support for Russia is conditional, and Russia-China partnership is caused by temporary mutually beneficial interests.
Following Russia's annexation of the Crimea, China has called for a constructive dialogue to find a right political solution, and stated that sanctions cannot be efficient and will not implement them. Fearing to lose its important partnership with Russia, China could not react in a different way. Nevertheless, the Russian-Chinese relations have changed somewhat, which has manifested itself in increasing political contacts and a broad coverage of Russian and Chinese media of the topic of "friendship" between the two countries. Moscow tried to enlist Beijing's support in confronting Ukraine during the acute phase of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014 and hoped to compensate Western sanctions by intensifying cooperation with China. Even the proposals for the establishment of the Russian-Chinese military-political alliance could be heard, which, of course, points to the "archaic" perception of China by individual representatives of the Russian elite. However, China took a cautious position and did not provide Russia with either political or economic support. As a result, Russia has weakened its position instead of achieving close cooperation with China and received a high level of political dialogue in the absence of concrete results. It will not be a big exaggeration to say that Russia has fallen into an asymmetric relationship of dependence on China, as it is indicated by the correction of its own foreign policy, e.g., in the issue of the South China Sea.
Nevertheless, according to some Ukrainian and Western experts, China's policy on Ukraine's conflict is uncertain. To understand Beijing's position on the "Ukrainian crisis", it must be remembered that China's foreign policy is based on international law and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, which is a concrete manifestation of the philosophical concept of non-deed (wu-wei). Consequently, China's attitude to the "Ukrainian crisis" is characterized by a strategy that consists of two aspects: 1) commitment to the principles of international law is not only aimed at preserving peace and order in the world, but also helps to better protect the domestic interests of China (Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan); 2) Real-policy considerations allow China, by supporting Russia, to receive specific political and economic benefits from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
Although China is the least affiliated with the current crisis in Ukraine of all the main parties involved in it, nevertheless, Beijing recognizes that, in the context of the international crisis, it should also bear moral responsibility and a duty to resolve the crises peacefully. In the context of growing global interdependence, China opposes the full-scale conflict between the EU / US and Russia in addressing the "Ukrainian crisis". Otherwise, it will have a negative impact on China, which does not want to play the role of a diplomatic mediator in the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis. On the contrary, Beijing is ready to adapt both the interests of Russia and the EU. In other words, China believes that peaceful settlement of the "Ukrainian crisis" depends on consensus between the two sides (EU / US and Russia). Without this consensus, China cannot guarantee Ukraine peaceful future or maximize the benefits of its partnership. Thus, China supports efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis through negotiations between the EU / US and Russia, and has no desire to play a major role in solving this issue and to take one side or the other.
China is increasingly expressing its position on maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, which can be illustrated by concrete examples:
• On 23 August, 2016, the President of the People’s Republic of China Mr.Xi Jinping congratulated the head of the Ukrainian state Mr. Petro Poroshenko and the Ukrainian people on Independence Day. The head of the People’s Republic of China, in particular, pointed out that Ukraine was traditionally a friendly partner in cooperation with China, and the friendship of the peoples of the two countries rooted in the distant past. "China is among the first countries to have recognized the independence of Ukraine and establish diplomatic relations with it. China respects the state sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine, respects the path chosen by your people to develop in accordance with the specific features of the country ", - was said in the greetings. Mr.Xi Jinping has also noted that in recent years friendly relations between China and Ukraine have maintained healthy and sustainable development, cooperation in various spheres is moving forward with confident steps. At the same time, he stressed the need for further development of China-Ukraine relations and the achievement of great real results. In the current conditions, the greetings of the Chinese leader should be considered as another expression of China's interest in restoring a high level of bilateral relations, which was achieved in 2013 at the time of signing the Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation between Ukraine and the People's Republic of China. The Chinese side is expecting patiently for the Ukrainian side to "reach out" to resolve the problems of Ukraine-China cooperation and is not tired of sending benevolent signals to Kyiv. A meeting between the President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko and the President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping was held in the framework of the World Economic Forum in Davos on17 January, 2017. During the meeting, Xi Jinping emphasized that China supported the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and the choice of the Ukrainian people. Petro Poroshenko expressed hope that China would promote peaceful settlement of the situation in the Donbass and a cessation of Russian aggression against Ukraine and the restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including the Crimea. No less important is the statement made by Mr. Poroshenko on China's participation in the peaceful settlement of the situation around Donbass and the Crimea. Thus, Ukraine draws attention to the fact that the People’s Republic of China has remained one of the guarantors of our sovereignty and territorial integrity since 1994, which has considerably strengthened its weight and influence in the world. If we take into account the address of Xi Jinping at the Davos forum, which specifically concerned China's willingness to bear its share of responsibility for the development of the situation in the world, one can assume in the near future serious reformatting of the participants in the solution of the Ukrainian crisis.
• On 2 February, 2017 during the UN Security Council session on the intensification of the conflict in the region of Avdiivka, the Permanent Representative of the People's Republic of China to the United Nations said that China closely monitored the situation in Ukraine and was concerned about the latest escalation that resulted in the death of civilian persons. He urged the parties to strictly comply with the ceasefire and to be committed to a political solution. "There must be a fundamental and long-term solution of the conflict that takes into account the rights and aspirations of all regions and ethnic groups, and also takes into account the reasonable concern of the parties in order to find a balance between the interests of all parties," - the leader of the People’s Republic of China said. He also emphasized: “China believes that all parties should comply with UN Security Council Resolution #2202 in order to ensure the cessation of hostilities and violence”. It should be noted that China consistently advocates in the UN a peaceful way of resolving the situation as for Russia's aggression against Ukraine, and has become much more active at meetings of the UN Security Council on Ukrainian issues since August, 2016.
• Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov met with the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People's Republic of China to Ukraine Mr. Du Wei on 18 April, 2017. Issues of Ukrainian-Chinese cooperation in the political, economic, and security spheres were discussed during the meeting. According to the Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, "it is necessary to raise our cooperation in various spheres to a fundamentally new level that would meet the interests of our countries." In his turn, the Ambassador of the People's Republic of China, Du Wei, emphasized that China strongly supported the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.
• By the way, it is necessary to draw attention to a rather minor event, which at the moment is very symbolic. During the meeting of the commander of the National Guards of Ukraine, Lieutenant-General Y. Allerov, with the defence attaché of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Ukraine, Senior Colonel Xao Xiaojiang on 14 February, 2017, agreement was reached on cooperation in the field of internal security of the state, public order protection, security of important governmental objects, as well as the priority directions for further development of bilateral cooperation. The parties also discussed the exchange of experience on the use of special-purpose units and the improvement of the personnel training system of the National Guards of Ukraine. It is worth drawing attention to the interaction between the law enforcing agencies of the two countries in the conditions of Russian aggression.
• On 19 September, 2017, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin held a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China Van I during the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly. During the meeting the sides discussed the results of the meeting of the President of Ukraine and the President of the People's Republic of China in Davos in January, the possible timing of the Third Meeting of the Commission on Cooperation between the Governments of Ukraine and the People’s Republic of China, prospects for the expansion of trade and economic and investment cooperation, cooperation within the framework of international organizations, in particular the interaction of Ukrainian and Chinese delegations at the UN Security Council. The issue of advancing the initiative of the President of Ukraine on the UN peacekeeping operation in the Donbass was also raised. Pavlo Klimkin confirmed the invitation for his Chinese counterpart to visit Ukraine.
• It is necessary to point out the attempts of Russian propaganda to distort China's position on the solution of "Ukrainian crisis". Thus, the Ambassador of the People's Republic of China to Ukraine, Du Wei told reporters on 27 September, 2017 that it was wrong to say that China supported the resolution of the Russian Federation on the deployment of peacekeeping forces in the Donbass. "Today there are such messages in the news, they are unjustified at all," - the diplomat said. "There was incomplete information, incomplete position of the Chinese side in the news," - Du Wei said. He pointed out that the position of the Chinese side was presented by the Russian media in a wrong way. "This is not true, and this is a misunderstanding of our position. Also, I can say that this is an intentionally misunderstood official Chinese position ", - said the ambassador of the People's Republic of China. At the same time, he specified that it was too early to talk about whether Russia supported or did not support the Russian draft resolution, since those proposals were still being discussed. The ambassador also stressed that no resolution on sending peacekeepers to the east of Ukraine had been considered at the UN Security Council. Du Wei added that only a discussion of the Russian draft resolution was carried on at the moment. "We support all the options for a political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis. This is such a principle position. It does not specifically address the support of someone's position, "- the diplomat said. The diplomat reminded that the same day a briefing was held at the Foreign Ministry of the People’s Republic of China, during which the Press-secretary for the Chinese Foreign Ministry was asked about China's position on the intention of the Russian Federation to adopt a Russian draft resolution at the UN Security Council. "Our Press Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied that the issue was still at the level of consultations," - said Du Wei. "The Chinese side supports all measures that are in favour of a peaceful settlement of the Ukrainian crisis," - the ambassador summed up.
There were political incentives to draw attention to the development of relations with China not only for Russia, but also for Ukraine. Ukraine needs external support against further Russian incursions:
• Since Ukraine can hardly expect to join NATO and the European Union in the near future, and Russia is likely to continue its aggression, Chinese support can be a valuable leverage of influence for Ukraine.
• The position of China can change the balance of power between Russia and the West at the international scene, which is particularly relevant to its position in the UN Security Council.
• Today, China holds a position as for the need to restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine on the basis of international law.
• Understanding the specifics and special situation of Russian-Chinese relations, Ukraine needs to concentrate on broad economic opportunities for cooperation with China, which will eventually have political results.
• Ukraine can expand economic cooperation with China, provided that the official Kyiv will not require Beijing to formally condemn Russia's actions in the east of Ukraine, but insist on the need to respect international law and territorial integrity for the restoration of peace.
• Most likely, the relations between Ukraine and China will be able to reach the proper level only after the end of the crisis and a final peace settlement.
The question remains whether Ukraine can simultaneously successfully co-operate with China and the West. China's interests are aimed at continuing economic cooperation with Ukraine under the One Belt, One Road, which will allow China to extend its commercial and geopolitical infrastructure project through Asia to Europe. At the same time, China does not risk integrating Ukraine into its Central and Eastern Europe strategy as it will be detrimental to the strategic partnership between China and Russia. Since Ukraine's geopolitical sensitivity makes it vulnerable because of confrontation between the EU and Russia, China is looking for an option that would allow it to build productive relations with both sides. China has no intention of either joining the Eurasian Economic Union or interfering in the negotiations on a free trade area between Ukraine and the EU.
Ukraine has lost its largest trading partner - Russia, and the EU cannot replace Russia to a full extent and does not have the right amount of money to invest in Ukraine. Since Ukraine needs a lot of support, it will willingly accept investments and the presence of China on its territory. Indeed, it should be pointed out that economic cooperation between Ukraine and China has been steadily increasing over the past three years. Cooperation with Ukraine can help China reduce its dependence on Russia in many respects. China can become a reliable partner for Ukraine to help save the country from economic collapse, with its colossal investment opportunities and new technologies.
*Information about the author:
Kiktenko V.O. – Doctor of Philosophy, Head, Office of the Far East, A. Krymsky Institute of Oriental Studies, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
The article is prepared on the basis of address at the International Conference "Russia and China: Current Situation and Development Prospects".