Chinese mediation can set Ukraine right

Source:Global Times Published: 2014-3-25 18:33:01

Editor's Note:

Crimea joining Russia after a referendum has heated up the Ukrainian crisis. Is the region doomed to be an endless battlefield between Russia and the West? And what is China's role in the issue? Global Times (GT) reporter Liu Zhun talked to Zhang Zhen (Zhang), China's first ambassador to Ukraine, trying to discover the possible answers to these questions.

Zhang Zhen (张震)


GT: The result of the Crimean referendum was expected, although the legitimacy of the referendum was questioned by many countries. What do you think of the referendum?

Zhang: First of all, we have to understand that Crimea is very special in terms of its status quo. It was given as a gift to Ukraine by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, but it has been enjoying high autonomy.

The dispute of the ownership of Crimea emerged after the Soviet Union collapsed in early 1990s. This recent event is also not the first time that the peninsula held such referendums. In 1991, Crimea staged its first referendum, and decided to stay in Ukraine.

Even so, Crimea has a very strong relationship with Russia, whose influence on this peninsula prevails over that of Ukraine. Russia's connection with Crimea is a complicated result of many historical, cultural and political interactions between them. Russia's long-term influence seems to have decided the fate of Crimea.

The West keeps blaming Russia for manipulating the referendum. But Russian President Vladimir Putin signing the decree that allows Crimea to rejoin Russia is only an effort that uncovers the long-standing but hidden truth.

Considering Crimea's special status quo, it could be anticipated that even without the involvement of a third party, the result of the referendum would also be the same.

GT: Some say China abstained from the UN resolution on Crimea because China had concerns that a clear statement on the referendum would put China in the dock when it faces similar problems. What do you think?

Zhang: It is true that China has to be extremely careful about the concept of referendums. From the cases of Kosovo and Crimea, we can see that this term is now being misused by some major powers.

More importantly, the widely recognized right of national self-determination is being interpreted by these countries for their own benefits.

The confusion will possibly impose new threat to China's territorial integrity, because China is also haunted by some separatists in some regions like Xinjiang, Taiwan, Tibet and even Hong Kong.

It is wise of China not to give a clear statement on this issue for now.

GT: Ukraine is still at the frontline of the confrontation between Russia and the West. You once said that "real independence" is the only way for Ukraine to get out of chaos. What do you mean by "real independence?" And what kind of future should Ukraine strive for?

Zhang: Ukraine's geopolitical situation decides that the country has to keep striving for stability.

On the one hand, since it was once the second largest republic of the Soviet Union, Ukraine is the last defense for Russia against the expansion of NATO and the EU. There is no way that Russia will allow Ukraine to be drawn over to the other side.

On the other hand, Ukraine is being used by the West as the spearhead to challenge Russia. A pro-West Ukraine would contain Russia's rejuvenation.

Ukraine has been on the wrong path for a long time. Heading east or west actually gives the country no option. It could only continuously impair Ukraine and even in the worst scenario, rip it apart.

Ukraine has to realize that a middle path should be given enough consideration.

The country must reorient itself not as a battlefield for the game of major powers, but a pool that can harbor all the risks and reverse them to be advantages.

Ukraine can confirm its position as a neutral force in the contention between Russia and the West. It must be aware of the bottom lines of both sides, and make their requirements benefit the country itself.

This road demands Ukraine to get a firm grip on its economy in the first place.

Without economic development, the rise of people's income and social stability, Ukraine is unable to acquire the real independence. Given that Ukraine is still suffering from political unrest and economic slump, the country still has a long way to go.

GT: Some deem China, which keeps a low profile in the crisis, the biggest winner in the Ukraine crisis. What do you think?

Zhang: It cannot deny that China will benefit in a way from the crisis, but it is not the biggest beneficiary, and no country can be in a crisis like this.

One of the reasons why China chose not to intervene into the crisis is that China can act as a mediator when the time is appropriate.

Instead of picking a side, China knows that mediation is the best job China can do to make sure the situation won't escalate to something uncontrollable.

China will also be able to develop a closer economic and strategic relationship with Russia, which is being sanctioned by the West.

Ukraine is far from China's major geopolitical interests, so China won't be the biggest winner. But China's mediation and a relatively neutral position might help Ukraine realize the possibility that the country could benefit from a much closer relationship with China, especially in economic terms.

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