27th Sep 2023

China backtracks on ambassador claim in row with Baltic states

  • French president Emmanuel Macron (l) and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Beijing earlier this month (Photo: European Commission)
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China is distancing itself from comments made by its ambassador in Paris that appeared to question the independence of ex-USSR states — which would include Baltic EU member states.

In a statement published Monday (24 April), the Chinese embassy in Paris declared that televised statements by its ambassador Lu Shaye were personal and not a political declaration.

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"The Chinese side respects the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries," it said, despite threats by Beijing to seize the island-nation of Taiwan by military force.

The growing backlash follows comments last week on the French LCI network by Lu who said former Soviet countries don't have "effective status in international law." Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were all part of the USSR from 1940 to 1991.

Lu made the statement as part of a wider discussion on whether Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, was part of Ukraine.

"Even these ex-Soviet countries don't have an effective status in international law because there was no international agreement to materialise their status as sovereign countries," Lu said.

Bloomberg news reports that the embassy has since removed a transcript of the interview from its official WeChat account.

The statements have inflamed Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and led to calls among some MEPs to have France declare Lu persona non grata.

All three have since summoned meetings with Chinese state diplomatic representatives. It is not immediately clear if Beijing's efforts at damage control will temper the row, although Luxembourg's foreign minister Jean Asselborn called Lu's remarks a "blunder".

China's friendly relations with Moscow, given Russia's invasion of Ukraine, has only sowed further distrust despite efforts by the French president to have Beijing act a mediator.

Among the most ardent critics of China is Lithuania.

"We've been always saying that we do not trust China, as a mediator, as a possible mediator," said Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania's minister of foreign affairs.

"It has definitely chosen a side. They sided with Russia, politically," he said.

He had also equated Beijing with Moscow propagandists spreading lies about Ukraine. "They questioned the sovereignty of the countries, they questioned the borders, they question the territorial integrity of countries," he said.

"This is the narrative that we've been hearing from Moscow, and now it's being sent out by another country," he told reporters.

Estonia made similar comments.

"We are an independent sovereign country, we are a member of European Union, Nato," said Estonia's minister of foreign affairs, Margus Tsahkna.

China is among a list of discussion topics at a Luxembourg meeting of EU ministers of foreign affairs on Monday.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said the talks will seek to "reassess and recalibrate our strategy towards China."

Meanwhile, in Brussels, the European Commission is holding talks with China's minister of commerce Wang Wenta to discuss bilateral trade issues.

A European Commission spokesperson said the two sides will also discuss specific issues of market access and trade interests.

The Brussels-executive had last December launched legal proceedings against China at the World Trade Organization for alleged restrictions imposed by Beijing on Lithuania's exports.


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