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Regional and global issues

48 - Relations with China on Russia/Ukraine

Grade: C+
Unity 4/5
Resources 2/5
Outcome 3/10
Total 9/20

After Russia annexed Crimea and destabilised eastern Ukraine, China remained officially neutral, while taking advantage of EU sanctions. 

The Ukraine crisis was the EU’s biggest foreign policy challenge in 2014. The EU and its member states adopted a unified position but failed to persuade China to support them. Despite repeated calls on China to put pressure on Moscow, the country stuck to its principle of non-interference and refused to get involved. Discussions were held between the EU and China on the issue during Xi Jinping’s visit to Brussels in March and again on the margins of the ASEM meeting in October. But, despite China’s sensitivity to sovereignty issues (particularly in relation to Taiwan and Tibet), it did not take sides. Mainstream Chinese media even condemned “Western interference” in Ukraine and expressed sympathy for Moscow. China did say it was “shocked” after pro-Russian separatists shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in July, but still did not directly criticise Russia. China abstained in the subsequent UN Security Council vote on a resolution condemning the referendum in Crimea, but this can be interpreted neither as a condemnation of Russia’s actions nor as a show of support to the EU.

Overall, relations between China and Russia do not seem to have been particularly affected by the crisis, and might even have improved as a result of international sanctions on Russia. In particular, in May and November, two deals were signed to supply Russian gas to China. Since the crisis began, Chinese and Russian leaders have met several times. Xi met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the margins of the APEC meeting in November, Li met with Putin on the margins of the ASEM meeting, and Li went on an official visit to Moscow in October. Even in Central and Eastern Europe, EU member states seemed more interested in Chinese investment than in the possibility of leveraging relations with China to solve the Ukraine crisis. This raised eyebrows in Japan and Korea, which complied with most Western sanctions against Russia in response to the annexation of Crimea and the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine.