War-ravished Ukraine trapped in China conundrum

Moscow’s ‘without-limits’ partnership with Beijing illustrates the dilemma facing Kyiv after Russia’s invasion

China’s “without limits” relationship with Russia has been widely reported since the start of the war in Ukraine. But less well known is the strategic partnership forged in 2011 between Ukraine and China. Now, that partnership is being questioned by a key lawmaker in Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier this month sounded a soft tone, casting Beijing’s stance in the conflict as “neutral” and inviting the Chinese government and business to play an active role in his country’s rebuilding.

Back in 2011, then-Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Ukraine after stopping in Moscow. China and the Eastern European nation agreed to boost cooperation in energy, technology, agriculture, and trade. The two sides also upgraded their ties to a “strategic partnership.”

China is now Ukraine’s number one trading partner.

While Ukraine figures less prominently in overall trading, Beijing has been acquiring items of importance from Kyiv, including military equipment and critical minerals, such as those produced only in Mariupol and Odesa.

But a key Ukrainian lawmaker has said the bilateral relationship should not be based only on those factors. His comments were fueled by China’s officially declared “no limits strategic partnership with Russia” while Moscow has engaged in an all-out war on Ukraine.

Conciliatory note

“[Beijing] has failed this partnership. In my personal view, Ukraine should seriously reconsider [its] strategic partnership with [the People’s Republic of China],” Oleksandr Merezhko told VOA in a written interview from Kyiv.

He went on to write:

In fact, it’s totally absurd to have a strategic partnership with a country which has [a] strategic partnership without limits with Russia (an aggressor state committing genocide against the Ukrainian nation) … [as well as helping Moscow] to circumvent Western sanctions [as it] holds joint military drills with Russia. I don’t think that strategic partner of the aggressor state can be simultaneously our strategic partner. It makes no sense.

Zelenskyy sounded a more conciliatory note toward Beijing during a recent online town hall with college students from Australia and during an on-camera interview with the South China Morning Post, published in Hong Kong but owned by the mainland-based Alibaba Group.

China, he said, on both occasions, has shown “neutrality” in his country’s conflict with Russia. Zelenskyy underscored that “I really wanted the relationship with China to be reinforced and developed every year” in a video clip put out by the SCMP on August 3.

He also highlighted China’s role in Ukraine’s reconstruction. “I would like China to participate in the rebuilding of all Ukraine,” he said, noting that Ukraine’s rebuilding program will be a huge undertaking.

Beijing has sat on the sidelines during Russia’s destruction of Ukraine. Photo: Max Pixel

“I would like China and the Chinese business [community] to join in the rebuilding process, and the [Chinese] state to join this,” Zelenskyy added in the video clip.

The largest international conference on rebuilding Ukraine was held in Switzerland in July. China was not seen in the official “family photo,” featuring top officials from more than 20 democratic nations that have provided large amounts of aid to Ukraine.

Asked to comment on Zelenskyy’s published remarks, Merezhko said: “In [a] democratic society, members of parliament might have a different point of view on some issues of parliamentary diplomacy than executive power.

“I also believe that in economic matters, Ukraine should rely upon Western business rather than Chinese business,” he added.

According to reports, China’s purchases of Russian oil and gas products have almost doubled from a year ago. Chinese spending on Russian energy in July alone reached US$7.2 billion, while China’s economy is showing significant signs of slowing.

Commenting on social media, Merezhko wrote that, “Russia’s allies bear” a “moral and political responsibility for its crimes against peace and global security” and “the West should introduce secondary sanctions against those Russia’s allies.”

Taiwan friendship group

Trade and economics weren’t the only factors Merezhko had in mind when he called into question his country’s decade-old “strategic partnership” with Beijing.

Following published investigative reports that Chinese authorities have been putting dissidents in psychiatric hospitals and subjecting them to torture, Merezhko said such practices bring to mind “the same cruel totalitarian practices which were used by the Soviet repressive regime.”

“I don’t think such a country can be a strategic partner of any democratic country, including Ukraine,” he concluded.

Recently, Merezhko and more than a dozen fellow parliamentarians from three Ukrainian political parties formed a Taiwan friendship group. “Democracies should support each other to survive and win,” he wrote on Twitter.

This article is republished from Voice of America. Read the original article here.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.