HELSINKI (AP) — The three Baltic states have strongly condemned comments by China’s envoy to France, who appeared to suggest in a recent French television interview that former Soviet republics aren’t sovereign nations.
The foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in separate announcements late Saturday deemed statements by Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to France, as unacceptable.
In a recent interview with the French news channel LCI, he was asked if he thought that the Crimean Peninsula belongs to Ukraine. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world denounced as illegal.
“That depends … on how one perceives this problem,” the envoy told the broadcaster. “There’s the history. Crimea was at the beginning Russian, no? It was (Soviet leader Nikita) Khrushchev who gave Crimea to Ukraine in the era of the Soviet Union.”
When the channel’s presenter noted that according to international law, Crimea is part of Ukraine, the Chinese ambassador drew a parallel to the former Soviet republics — including the three Baltic nations — that broke free after the USSR collapsed in 1991.
“With regards to international law, even these ex-Soviet Union countries, they do not, they do not have the status — how to say it? — that’s effective in international law, because there is no international agreement to solidify their status as a sovereign country,” he said.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis tweeted that “If anyone is still wondering why the Baltic States don’t trust China to ‘broker peace in Ukraine,’ here’s a Chinese ambassador arguing that Crimea is Russian and our countries’ borders have no legal basis.”
His Estonian counterpart, Margus Tsahkna, said Chinese ambassador’s comments were “false and a misinterpretation of history,” while Latvian Foreign Minister Edgar Rinkevics said that the statements were “completely unacceptable.”
Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius would each summon China’s ambassador or representative for an explanation of the envoy’s comments, the three Baltic countries said. European Union and NATO members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania regained their independence in 1991 amid the fall of the Soviet Union after nearly five decades of Moscow’s rule.
In a separate statement, France’s Foreign Ministry expressed concern about the ambassador’s comments about ex-Soviet states and said: “It’s for China to say whether these comments reflect its position, which we hope is not the case.”
The French ministry said these countries gained independence “after decades of oppression” and that in the specific case of Ukraine, “the entirety of the international community, including China,” recognized its borders, including Crimea, when it declared independence in 1991.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Sunday criticized the Chinese ambassador’s “unacceptable remarks” on former Soviet republics’ sovereignty.
“The EU can only suppose these declarations do not represent China’s official policy,” he tweeted.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia, which is China’s ally, has said several times that he doesn’t recognize the sovereignty of Ukraine. The Kremlin also has made clear that it perceives the independence of the Baltic states and their active role in NATO and the EU as threats to Russia’s security.
John Leicester contributed to this report from Paris.