China is increasingly becoming the focus of world attention and more actively defending its own interests, using more confident and aggressive “wolf-warrior diplomacy.” It is time for Kyiv to think about how to develop relations with China, in particular, and Asian countries, in general. Bearing in mind that European and Euro-Atlantic integration remain key priorities of Ukraine’s foreign policy, the New Europe Center analysed the main risks and threats of deepening cooperation with China for Ukraine’s relations with the EU, the US, and NATO.
Euro-Atlantic partners are a priority. Assigning a special place in Ukraine’s foreign policy to relations with the Asian region is of interest to strategic partners – the United States and the European Union. Kyiv will face the task of correctly communicating the fact of preparation and implementation of the Asian strategy: there is no question of reorienting foreign policy. Cooperation with the Asian region is complementary to European and Euro-Atlantic integration, and not a substitute for them.
Trade without dependence. Among the countries, China came out on top in terms of trade with Ukraine (in general, the championship in trade is still for the EU). This trend may continue. In general, the EU or the US has no particular reservations about trade cooperation, but they seek to avoid dependence on individual items of trade with China. It is possible that over time, the issue of trade with China will be on the agenda of Ukraine’s negotiations with the EU or the United States. The absence of trade dependence is in the interests of Ukraine as well. As it protects it in the future from China’s use of the presence of Ukrainian products on the Chinese market as levers of influence on Ukraine in other, not necessarily trade issues (like Australia).
Investment under the microscope. The EU and the US are particularly wary of Chinese investment in the world, believing that it could pose, in particular, security threats. It should be borne in mind that by becoming economically dependent, China may push its own political interests in other countries.
Closer cooperation with China could signal to EU and US partners that Beijing will potentially influence Ukraine. European-style investment screening should be one of the options to respond to relevant risks – especially in the field of defence, technology, and strategic infrastructure. Yes, it is better for Ukraine to adhere to the memorandum of cooperation with Ericsson company on the development of 5G on Ukrainian territory and not to change this partner to Huawei (both for security reasons and due to the possible sharp reaction of important partners for Ukraine). The issue of Motor Sich will continue to be critical on the agenda of Ukrainian-American relations, and – under US influence – it may become more important on the Ukraine-NATO agenda.
Traps of infrastructure projects. Ukraine is interested in transport corridors to Asia that bypass Russia, so China’s “One Zone, One Road” initiative may be useful to it. But it is necessary to be wary of Chinese loans for infrastructure projects with questionable value for money. There are too many examples of Asian countries and even the Balkans (Montenegro) that owe a lot to China.
Although Chinese loans are unconditionally offered and are attractive to political leaders, they have already proved to be a financial trap in many countries, including Sri Lanka, Kenya, Montenegro, Mongolia, and Tajikistan. The infrastructure built on Chinese loans does not receive enough income to repay the loan, and the property eventually falls into the hands of China. At the same time, local authorities cannot influence how and what this property will be used for (and whether it will used be at all). It often turns out that Chinese investment was needed to buy a certain technology and transfer it to China. In many cases, this did not bring stable benefits to the local industry.
Emphasis on law and regulations.
Diplomatic tensions may arise between Ukraine and China if official Kyiv joins EU declarations on human rights violations in China. It is in Ukraine’s interest to support the European line in this matter (and not only because of the desire to share the same values as the EU), as it is important for Ukraine to maintain EU support in the international arena, which is to respond to violations of Ukrainian citizens’ rights in Russian territories. At the same time, in communication with China, Ukraine could emphasize the rules and law (rules-based international order). Such an approach would be in the interests of Ukraine, which sees the potential for mutually beneficial cooperation with China, and also hopes for support within international organizations. First of all, in counteracting Russian aggression at the UN level.
Preliminary consultations on sensitive projects. Ukraine should evaluate any infrastructure, technology, or, moreover, security project in cooperation with China in terms of its impact on relations with the US or the EU (possibly through informal prior consultations with partners in Washington or the capitals of the European Union). Cooperation with China has already become a toxic factor for both transatlantic and intra-EU partners. Conflicts exist because of tough US approaches and more diplomatic steps by the EU as an institution, as well as greater vulnerability to China in Central and Eastern Europe than in Western Europe. The Transatlantic confrontation, as well as the lack of a common position of EU member states on cooperation with China, on the one hand, creates space for maneuver on the part of Ukraine, but on the other hand, it will provoke situations when official Kyiv will be forced to choose its side.
Cyber/information security. Ukraine should review the EU’s experience in the field of information security and, if possible, join relevant initiatives, as an important factor for Ukraine’s successful integration into the EU’s Digital Single Market is to strengthen cooperation in the field of cybersecurity. The Cybersecurity Act, adopted in the EU in late 2018, is designed to combat cybercrime. Ukraine must also continue to cooperate with the United States in this area.
Ukraine is interested in countering Russia’s disinformation campaigns in the world. At present, the voices of those who warn about information provocations on the part of China are being heard more and more loudly in the EU. Ukraine should follow the EU’s countermeasures in this context so that the measures taken against China do not exceed the scale of measures against Russia.
Sale of weapons. So far, the EU and the US have not publicly criticized Ukraine’s weapons sales to China. However, according to our interviews, it is possible that such a question may arise given the policy of the embargo on weapons sales to Western countries, where human rights are systematically violated.
Alyona Hetmanchuk, Serhiy Solodky, Hanna Medvedeva, Marianna Fakhurdinova, Leonid Litra