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China’s ironic reticence on land grab in Ukraine
By Jeff Pao, Asian Times, February 25, 2023
Mar 23, 2023 - 11:40:04 AM

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Reviving map use of old Chinese names for Russian-conquered territory, Beijing won’t call out Moscow over Donbas
China’s newly-released plan to promote peace talks between Ukraine and Russia conspicuously fails to say clearly whether Moscow should withdraw its troops from the Donbas region now.

China’s foreign ministry released a 12-point statement on Friday, the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling on both sides to cease fire and open a dialogue to resolve their conflicts politically. The statement does not go beyond saying in generalized language that the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries should be protected in accordance with international laws, including the UN Charter.

There is some irony here in the fact that China has, this very month, made a politically sensitive change in its official worldview – a change that affects Russia.

The Ministry of Natural Resources on February 14 published a new version of its world map – directing a return to using the Chinese names of eight cities and areas occupied by the Russian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Qing government lost large expanses of land in the northern region due to the invasion of the Russians. As Wikipedia recounts it, the story is that

    The Treaty of Nerchinsk, signed in 1689 after a series of conflicts, defined the Sino–Russian border as the Stanovoy Mountains and the Argun River, affirming Qing China’s sovereignty over the region now known as Outer Manchuria. However, after losing the Opium Wars, Qing China was forced to sign a series of treaties that gave away territories and ports to various Western powers as well as to Russia and Japan; these were collectively known as the Unequal Treaties. Starting with the Treaty of Aigun in 1858 and the Treaty of Peking in 1860, the Sino–Russian border was realigned in Russia’s favour along the Amur and Ussuri rivers. As a result, China lost the region now known as Outer Manchuria (an area of more than 1 million km2) and access to the Sea of Japan.

Under Beijing’s new directive, Vladivostok once again is called Haishenwai (meaning Sea Cucumber Bay) while Sakhalin Island is called Kuyedao. The Stanovoy Range is back to being called the Outer Xing’an Range in Chinese.

It hasn’t been unusual for some Chinese columnists to write, from time to time, articles to remind readers how much of the country’s land was taken by foreign powers from the middle of the 19th century.

These articles are permitted to be posted online and circulated on the internet – even at times like this when Beijing wants to strengthen its economic ties with Moscow. It is, nevertheless, surprising that Beijing changed its map during this sensitive time.

Ou Hanzong, a Jiangsu-based columnist, said on February 20 that Chinese people has lost 1.7 million square kilometers of territory including what’s now called the Russian Far East region, Mongolia and some areas in present-day Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, to the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union under unequal treaties since the late 19th century.

Ou said the reuse of Chinese names of the Far East cities reminds Chinese people of their wishes to recover the lost territory.

The Russian government has not yet commented on the issue. However, it is arguable whether Moscow can complain about it because Beijing, while reverting to the use of the old Chinese names of the eight places, has not changed the English names.
Ambiguous stance

Although China in its latest statement on the Ukraine War urged all parties to prevent humanitarian and nuclear crises in Ukraine, its political stance on the matter remains ambiguous, said some commentators.

Simon Lau Sai-leung, a Hong Kong political commentator, said it is not so meaningful that China called for peace talks but did not ask Moscow to withdraw its troops.

Lau said it is obvious that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not want to retreat while Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky will not join any peace talks as long as the Russian troops are still in the Donbas region.

The Ukraine-Russian war will continue in the spring, he said, adding that such a trend might suit Beijing’s interests. Lau said China can buy Russian energy at lower prices if Moscow needs Beijing’s help.

The statement did spend many paragraphs blaming NATO’s expansion for causing the conflicts and blaming the West’s sanctions for escalating the situation.

“A country’s security should not be achieved at the expense of another country’s, while regional security should not be guaranteed by strengthening or expanding military blocs,” said the statement. “The legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries should be taken seriously and properly addressed.”

China’s UN Ambassador Dai Bing in his speech at a special UN meeting on Thursday said it is urgent to arrange a ceasefire in Ukraine as sending weapons there will not bring peace.

“Cruel facts have shown that the delivery of weapons will not bring peace but only escalate the conflicts,” Dai said. “Prolonging the conflicts will only make ordinary people suffer.”

He said relevant countries (a reference to the United States and European countries) should stop abusing unilateral sanctions and “long-arm jurisdiction” and do something beneficial to ease the tensions.

UN resolution

The statement came after the United Nations General Assembly approved a non-binding resolution on Thursday that calls for Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine. Originally, Chinese President Xi Jinping planned to deliver a speech on the matter on Friday but he did not.

The UN resolution won approval by 143 countries. Seven countries, including Russia, Belarus, Nicaragua, Syria, North Korea, Eritrea and Mali, voted against it. Thirty-two countries, including China, India, Venezuela and Iran, abstained.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said it was possible that Beijing had approved of Chinese firms providing Russia non-lethal, “dual-use” support for its war in Ukraine.

Der Spiegel, a German weekly news magazine, added particulars when it reported that a Xian-based company would deliver 100 strike drones to Russia as soon as April.  

China’s foreign ministry said all these accusations were groundless. Chinese columnists agreed and gave a reason: China would not risk sacrificing its trade with the West by sending weapons to Russia.

“China does not necessarily need to help Russia despite their good relations,” said a writer surnamed Tang. “If China blindly supports Russia and faces sanctions, how can its small trade with Russia offset the loss of its trillion-dollar businesses with Europe and the US?”

Tang said China achieved its economic success through international trade so it would not seek to get involved in a conflict that was unrelated to it.

Source:Ocnus.net 2023

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