- China’s ambassador to Paris has caused a stir in the EU
- Comments focused on Ukraine, the former Soviet Union
- Beijing says he is expressing personal views
- EU welcomes ‘clarification’
LUXEMBOURG, April 24 (Reuters) – China respects the status of sovereign states of former Soviet member states, its foreign ministry said on Monday, prompting uproar among European capitals.
Several European Union foreign ministers called on Ambassador Lu Shaye’s comments – in which he questioned the sovereignty of Ukraine and other former Soviet states – unacceptable and asked Beijing to clarify its position.
Asked whether Lu’s comments represented China’s official position, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said Beijing respected the status of sovereign states of former Soviet member states following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Mao told a regular news conference that his views on sovereignty represented China’s official government position.
The Chinese embassy in Paris issued a statement on Monday saying that Lu’s comments on Ukraine were “not a political statement, but an expression of his personal views”.
Both statements appeared to be an attempt to ease tensions with the European Union following the setback, while Washington cited a growing rapprochement between Beijing and Moscow.
“Beijing has distanced itself from its ambassador’s unacceptable comments,” Joseph Borrell told a news conference, calling it “good news.”
The French foreign ministry said it was “taking into account” Beijing’s “clarifications”, and the minister’s chief of staff met with Lou on Monday, telling him his comments were unacceptable and “consistent” with his country’s official position.
Lu has earned a reputation as one of China’s “wolf warrior” diplomats, known for their hawkish and abrasive style.
Asked about his position on whether or not Crimea is part of Ukraine, Lew said in an interview aired on French television on Friday that it was historically part of Russia and given to Ukraine by former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
“These former Soviet Union countries have no real status in international law because there is no international agreement to implement their sovereign status,” Lu added.
The statements by China’s foreign ministry and embassy in Paris on Monday came after criticism from across the EU.
Speaking ahead of a Luxembourg meeting of EU foreign ministers earlier, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said Lu’s comments were “absolutely unacceptable”.
“I hope the ambassador’s bosses will straighten these things out,” he told reporters.
A spokesman for Germany’s foreign ministry said it was “very surprised” by Lu’s comments, especially since the statements are not consistent with the Chinese position as we know it so far.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the three Baltic countries would invite Chinese representatives to officially ask for an explanation.
He said Beijing was “sending the same message” as Moscow in questioning the sovereignty of former Soviet states, which he described as “dangerous”.
Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, but regained independence after secession in 1991.
During the next summit in June, EU leaders will discuss the bloc’s stance on China and its future relationship with Beijing, EU Council President Charles Michel said.
Lu has been summoned to France’s foreign ministry several times in the past for suggesting France abandon elderly people in nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic and for calling a respected Chinese scholar a “crazy hyena” in a French think tank.
Asked about the Chinese officials’ comments, White House spokesman John Kirby told the MSNBC broadcaster that China and Russia are clearly aligned: “These two countries want to directly challenge the international rules-based order … and respect sovereignty around the world.”
“They want to undermine that. They want to reduce and reduce not only our influence in the United States and around the world, but also our allies and partners.”
Bart Meijer report
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