China Ambivalent on Russian Involvement in Crimea

Russian occupation and eventual annexation of Crimea has provoked strong condemnation from officials in Washington, Brussels and Berlin, and generated a wave of economic and visa-related sanctions doled out by the US government with the goal of restricting members of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Actions taken by individual nation states were coupled with a resolution that met the UN Security Council on Monday, and which proposed that international organizations ignore and choose not to recognize the results of Crimea’s referendum. The resolution, as may have been expected, was spearheaded by the United States and backed by France and Great Britain, and was ultimately vetoed by Russia. China, however, elected to abstain, a move that has reflected a policy marked by caution and blatant impartiality with regards to the Crimea.

China has long prioritized its relationship with Moscow, and as Chinese economic strength and overall influence has grown, so too has its relationship with its northern neighbor. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently boasted at a Chinese parliamentary session that relations with Russia are at their “best period in history” and China is currently the largest purchaser of Russian oil.  The Chinese military has engaged in joint military exercises with its Russian counterpart, and Beijing has shown itself willing to advocate Russian policy initiatives in the UN Security Council with regards to Syria.

China’s lack of clear support or condemnation of Russia in Crimea can be attributed to an issue that Beijing shares with Moscow, with respect to semi-autonomous regions in which ethnic minorities reside. Similar to Dagestan, Tartarstan and Chechnya in Russia, the region of Xinxiang in Western China is home to separatist movements that do not recognize state authority and have in the past resorted to violence in order to draw attention to their protests.

Calls for diplomacy and an intended ambivalence towards Russian movements in Crimea represent an effort by Chinese authorities to walk a fine line while not putting its relations with Russia or the West in jeopardy. Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Western Europe at the end of this month and is expected to expound on China’s position with regards to Crimea.

News Briefs:

  • P5+1 Vienna negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program began once again yesterday, but with the media’s attention diverted towards Crimea, very little attention has thus far been paid. The real issue on diplomats’ minds ahead of the second round is whether Russia will remain an active partner in attempting to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear program. US State Department Spokewoman Jennifer Psaki said she expects Russia to “remain an active partner,” and assistants to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov assured the press that his country would work “actively” to reach a deal. But commentators have noted that superpower tensions will allow Iran to reconsider the concessions it is making, perhaps forcing the EU and US into weaker bargaining positions. EU lead negotiator Catherine Ashcroft, however, has declined to comment on how the situation in Ukraine will affect the negotiations.
  • Hamid Karzai delivered his final address to Afghanistan’s parliament on Saturday. His rhetoric was as incendiary as ever, reiterating his refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement and asserting that the Afghan National Army is more than sufficient to handle the threats to the government. His refusal to sign the agreement has drawn fire from Western sources as well as more moderate influences from within Afghanistan, such as Afghanistan’s UN Ambassador, Zahir Tanin, who said yesterday that he is “certain” that the government will soon sign the BSA with the United States in an address to the UN Security Council. This statement is at odds with Hamid Karzai’s address, perhaps hinting at fractures in Karzai’s political alliance. During the last official Loya Jirga in November, attendees nearlyuniversally urged Karzai to sign the agreement, but he has refused to do so until the new government is elected after the upcoming April 5 elections.
  • Fatema Sumar, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, will be visiting Tashkent from March 16-19 to focus on expanding and deepening US-Uzbek relations. Sumar indicated that she will discuss economic integration for Uzbekistan within the US policy framework of the New Silk Road project, an initiative first proposed by Hillary Clinton in 2009. However, the Uzbek Foreign Minister is in Brussels this week to attend a regular meeting of the EU-Uzbekistan Cooperation Council.
  • Turkmenistan has been included in the ever-growing list of countries that missing Malaysian flight MH370 may have landed in. The Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak has also been invited to Turkmenistan to meet with President Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdimuhamedow. Searches for the flight have become more frantic, and the Malaysian Transportation and Foreign Ministries have thus far refused to cooperate with requests from larger countries to investigate a possible terrorism connection. One of the common culprits put forward are the Uighurs. Terrorist groups associated with Uighur nationalists carried out an attack in a Kunming train station two weeks ago, and Chinese authorities believe this could be their follow-up attack.
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