by Alexander Mercouris
“OFFICIAL – CHINA RECOGNISES CRIMEAN REFERENDUM”
This is the clear meaning of the statement TASS reports that a senior official of the Chinese Foreign Ministry has made.
The fact that China recognises the Crimean referendum means that de facto (and surely before long de jure) China has recognised Crimea’s unification with Russia. Note also that the official has expressed support for Russia’s Ukrainian policy.
This is the clearest statement from an official source (as opposed to the news media) of China’s position viz the Ukrainian crisis that China has made to date. Because it is made by an official rather than a minister it has gone almost unnoticed. However that is how China works: statements of this sort are first floated in the media, then made formally but at a relatively low level, following which they become uncontested policy. Suffice to say that it is inconceivable that the official in question would have spoken out in this way without clearance from the very highest levels of the Chinese government and the fact that in his conversation to TASS he actually quotes comments made by Xi Jinping in telephone conversations with Putin puts that question beyond doubt.
I have always felt that the Chinese dimension in influencing Russia’s Ukrainian policy is consistently underestimated. I am sure that every single step Moscow has taken since the start of the Ukrainian crisis has been discussed and coordinated with Beijing at the highest possible level. We should not make the mistake of thinking that the only conversations between Putin and Xi Jinping are those that are officially or publicly reported. The Chinese do not want to be seen taking an active or public role in the Ukrainian crisis – which formally speaking has nothing to do with them – but given the importance of China’s support for Russia and the importance of Russia to China, it is a certainty that the two sides have been working closely together with each other and that they are discussing every aspect of this crisis all the time. Knowledge that he has China’s support is one reason for Putin’s confidence in his dealings with the US and the Europeans.
The need to coordinate with Beijing does however place certain constraints on Moscow’s actions. Again I am sure that one reason amongst many why Russia has been wary of intervening actively in the Donbas or of formally recognising the various votes there is because it knows that doing so too obviously or too hastily would not be welcome in Beijing.
China is traditionally very wary of independence declarations (a policy restated with specific reference to the Ukraine by the official quoted by TASS) not because it is worried about Xinjiang or Tibet (where the situation is fully under control) as the west alleges but because it does not want to create a precedent for Taiwan.
Again I do not think many people especially in the west but also in Russia understand what a sensitive issue for China Taiwan is. Suffice to say that a key reason for the Sino Soviet split of the 1960s was precisely Mao Zedong’s anger at what he correctly saw as a lack of support from Moscow over Taiwan.
That does not mean Novorossian independence will not happen or that either the Russians or indeed the Chinese are reconciled to the results of the Maidan coup or to the survival of the present regime in Kiev. Both countries perceive the sort of staged US backed “revolutions” that the Maidan coup was, as a direct challenge and threat to themselves. Both countries are almost certainly agreed that the results of the coup in a key Eurasian state must be reversed. Note how the official, in the clearest possible sign that he is speaking on behalf of the Chinese government, quotes a previously unreported but very revealing remark Xi Jinping said to Putin in one of their telephone conversations, that “there is no smoke without fire”. No guesses who or what that refers to.
However the joint policy of reversing the effects of the Maidan coup is going to be done incrementally, step by step, for many reasons of which China’s concerns about Taiwan are just one.
Anyway, to those who think there is some division between Beijing and Moscow both over the Crimean issue and over the Ukrainian crisis generally, this statement from an official of the Chinese government should finally and once and for all put that question to rest: there is none.