Rushing Off to Jaws of Dragon. Why Kyiv’s Rapprochement with China is Dangerous

All interviews with the President of Ukraine are published on his website. Volodymyr Zelensky, like his predecessors, communicates with foreign press much more often than with domestic outlets. Xinhua Chinese state news agency was also among the Ukrainian leader’s interlocutors. The interview is dated 1 October 2020, the last question and the answer are as follows:

  • The Chinese people will soon celebrate the Day of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. What would you like to wish the Chinese people and President Xi Jinping?
  • On 1 October 1949, in the central square of Beijing, the then Chinese leader Mao Zedong announced the establishment of the People’s Republic of China and opened a new page in the millennial book of Chinese history. Today, China is the world’s largest exporter of a wide range of products, the world leader in the market of e-commerce and online services, the second largest economy in the world in terms of nominal GDP. We see how your country continues to renew, improve and develop, achieving new goals, overcoming today’s challenges. I am confident that thanks to wise leadership, far-sighted policies and a willingness to win, the Chinese people will realise all their ambitious plans. I sincerely congratulate President of the People’s Republic of China Mr. Xi Jinping, as well as the entire Chinese people on the national holiday. I wish friendly China success and new achievements. Congratulations on the founding of the People’s Republic of China!”

Strange and full of compliments vocabulary suggests that the text of the interview was written in Beijing, while the Office of the President of Ukraine only approved it. However, this is only an assumption. At the same time, there are facts that point to the rapid rapprochement of Kyiv and Beijing. The most eloquent among them is the withdrawal of Ukraine’s signature under the statement by 40 countries on human rights violations in China (persecution of Uyghurs). According to the Associated Press, China threatened to withhold Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccines and Ukraine withdrew its signature. The Chinese embassy denies this information. Ukrainian diplomats were slow to comment long while. Only a week after the media report, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba issued a statement that still did not clarify anything: “We are in consultations with our Western partners and with the People’s Republic of China, and when these consultations are completed, I will be happy to announce the official position on this issue.” The vagueness of this comment suggests that Kyiv tried to play behind the scenes but secrets cannot be concealed long in the present-day world.

On 1 July, China marked a significant date for the country – the 100th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC). As is typical of this ideology, the CPC officials used all their soft power on the eve of the anniversary. Eastern Europe is an important region for China, so many infrastructure projects are being implemented. And not only infrastructure ones. A scandal has recently erupted in Hungary over the construction of a branch campus of the Fudan University in Budapest. Ukraine is not overlooked either. Ukrainian lawmakers, who had not previously taken a liking to China, suddenly mentioned the need to deepen cooperation with China on the eve of the anniversary of the Communist Party of China. Thus, Kira Rudyk, the leader of the Holos faction, posted (and then deleted) a post on social networks about a meeting with the Chinese ambassador with whom she discussed “judicial reform, protection of investors’ rights and de-oligarchisation of the economy.” And this is not the greatest expression of loyalty. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the CPC, the Embassy of China in Kyiv presented a book “Xi Jingping: The Governance of China.” The event was attended by Yulia Tymoshenko, several ministers, and David Arakhamiya, the leader of the Servant of the People faction.

However, not by visits alone. Again, on the eve of the Chinese anniversary, the government presented the Foreign Policy Strategy for 2021-2024. Among the projected points of cooperation with the West, China is mentioned on the list of partners ahead of Japan and generally has a higher priority than other Asian countries.

China is Ukraine’s largest trading partner. In 2020, Ukraine imported more than $8 billion worth of goods and exported more than $7 billion. However, there is a noticeable imbalance in our foreign trade. Ukraine buys from China mainly goods with a high share of added value (mainly, mechanical engineering products) and sells mostly raw materials (ore, grain, metal). Such an essentially colonial state of affairs should satisfy Beijing, not Kyiv.

While European countries are trying to create their own Asian strategies (including reducing economic dependence on China), Kyiv places its stake on China. This is definitely dangerous. China’s ambitions are growing and are no longer limited to trade. Trying to play a “new multi-vector” will create more problems, not opportunities for Kyiv. The story around Motor Sich was indicative. However, this is not the only one precedent. In October last year, the State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine signed a memorandum with the Chinese company Huawei, which has a scandalous reputation and is suspected of espionage in several countries. This was again the case when Ukrainian officials had to justify themselves, claiming they were got wrong.

“The Euro-Atlantic choice is not just about integration into the EU and NATO,” Arthur Kharytonov, coordinator of Free Hong Kong Centre, said in a comment to Promote Ukraine. “For both the EU and NATO, as well as their regional allies in the world, the fundamental axiom is not the fact of membership in a formal structure, it is the belief in global democratic solidarity. It was because of this unwavering faith that the Western world stood side by side with the Ukrainians during the Revolution of Dignity and later joined Ukraine on the path to repel the Russian aggressor. Including, at the cost of economic benefits. The truth is that the current heart of an undemocratic system is not Putin’s weak Moscow, it is the communist, wealthy and much more insidious Beijing. The Western family understands that China is a direct continuation of the USSR. The genocide of the Uyghur people in East Turkestan, the hybrid occupation of Hong Kong, the crimes in Tibet, the aggression against Taiwan, the concealment of the truth about the events in Wuhan, the espionage wars against the West, the global economic expansion to seize the sovereignty of weak democracies – this is just an iceberg of what China conceals under the control of the Communist Party. NATO has already recognised China as a direct threat. The EU is curtailing economic cooperation with China. The United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada are imposing sanctions on the CPC, and Japan is stepping up its defence because of the “red threat.” Instead, China is threatening to destroy Lithuania and Australia, kidnapping Swedish citizens. In fact, the new Cold War is already underway. And any attempt by the Ukrainian government to strengthen China’s presence in our country – from mass investment to Confucius institutes and the launch of visa-free travel – sends a clear signal to Western allies that Kyiv chooses a ‘Russia–China world’ rather than a Euro-Atlantic dimension. The consequences of such vulgar behaviour could be perhaps even more catastrophic than Yanukovych’s actions in 2013. Especially for Ukraine’s accession to the EU and NATO.”

Stepan Nazarenko

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