While China’s strategic partnership with Russia “without limits” has been widely reported since the start of the war in Ukraine, much less known is the strategic partnership Ukraine and China forged in 2011. Now, that partnership is being questioned by a key lawmaker in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier this month sounded a soft tone on China, casting Beijing’s role in the conflict as “neutral” and inviting Chinese government and business to play an active role in his country’s rebuilding.
Back in June 2011, then-Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Ukraine after stopping in Moscow. China and Ukraine agreed to boost cooperation in energy, technology, agriculture and trade. The two sides also upgraded their ties to a “strategic partnership.”
China is now Ukraine’s number one trading partner. While Ukraine figures less prominently in China’s overall trading, Beijing has been acquiring items of importance from Ukraine, including military equipment and critical minerals, such as those produced only in Mariupol and Odesa.
But a key lawmaker in Kyiv says the bilateral relationship should not be based only on those factors, given China’s officially declared “strategic partnership with Russia with no limit,” while Moscow has engaged in an all-out war on Ukraine.
Beijing “has failed this partnership,” Oleksandr Merezhko told VOA in a written interview from Kyiv.
“In my personal view, Ukraine should seriously reconsider [its] strategic partnership with [the People’s Republic of China],” he said. “In fact, it’s totally absurd to have a strategic partnership with a country which: 1) has strategic partnership without limits with Russia (aggressor state committing genocide against Ukrainian nation); 2) amplifies Russian propaganda; 3) helps Russia to circumvent Western sanctions; 4) holds joint military drills with Russia,” Merezhko wrote.
“I don’t think that strategic partner of the aggressor state can be simultaneously our strategic partner. It makes no sense,” he added.
Zelenskyy sounded a more conciliatory note toward Beijing during a recent online town hall with college students from Australia and during an on-camera interview with the South China Morning Post, published in Hong Kong but owned since 2016 by the mainland-based Alibaba Group.
China, Zelenskyy said, on both occasions, has shown “neutrality” in his country’s conflict with Russia. Zelenskyy underscored that “I really wanted the relationship with China be reinforced and developed every year” in a video clip put out by the South China Morning Post on August 3. He also highlighted China’s role in Ukraine’s reconstruction.
“I would like China to participate in the rebuilding of all Ukraine,” he said, noting Ukraine’s rebuilding is going to be a huge undertaking. “I would like China and the Chinese business to join in the rebuilding process, and the [Chinese] state to join this,” Zelenskyy said in the video clip.
The largest international conference on Ukraine’s rebuilding to date has been the Lugano Conference held in July in Switzerland. China was not seen in the official “family photo” taken at the conference, which featured top officials from more than 20 democratic nations that have provided large amounts of aid to Ukraine.
Asked to comment on Zelenskyy’s recently published remarks, Merezhko said: “In democratic society, members of parliament might have a different point of view on some issues of parliamentary diplomacy than executive power.”
“I also believe that in economic matters, Ukraine should more rely upon Western business rather than Chinese business,” he added.
According to recent reports, China’s purchases of Russian oil and gas products have almost doubled from a year ago; Chinese spending on Russian energy in July alone reached $7.2 billion, while China’s economy is showing significant signs of slowing.
Commenting on social media, Merezhko wrote that “Russia’s allies bear moral and political responsibility for its crimes against peace and global security” and “the West should introduce secondary sanctions against those Russia’s allies.”
Trade and economics weren’t the only factors Merezhko had in mind when he called into question his country’s decade-old “strategic partnership” with Beijing. Following recently published investigative reports that Chinese authorities have been putting dissidents in psychiatric hospitals and subjecting them to torture, Merezhko said such practices bring to mind “the same cruel totalitarian practices which were used by the Soviet repressive regime.”
“I don’t think such a country can be a strategic partner of any democratic country, including Ukraine,” he concluded.
Recently, Merezhko and more than a dozen fellow parliamentarians from three Ukrainian political parties formed a Taiwan friendship group. “Democracies should support each other to survive and win,” he wrote on Twitter.