Beijing’s ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, questioned the sovereignty of post-Soviet countries in a media interview.
Ukraine has condemned what it called “absurd” comments from China’s ambassador to France, who questioned the sovereignty of former Soviet countries.
France and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have also expressed dismay over the remarks.
Asked about his position on whether Crimea is part of Ukraine, Chinese Ambassador Lu Shaye said in an interview aired on French television on Friday that historically, the peninsula was part of Russia and had been offered to Ukraine by former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
“These ex-USSR countries don’t have actual status in international law because there is no international agreement to materialise their sovereign status,” Shaye said.
His comments refer not just to Ukraine, which Russia invaded in February last year, but also to all former Soviet republics, which emerged as independent nations after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, including many members of the European Union.
Responding on Sunday, Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said the status of post-Soviet countries was “enshrined in international law”.
“It is strange to hear an absurd version of the ‘history of Crimea’ from a representative of a country that is scrupulous about its 1,000-year history,” Podolyak said, referring to China.
France stated its “full solidarity” with all the allied countries affected, which it said had acquired their independence “after decades of oppression”.
“On Ukraine specifically, it was internationally recognised within borders including Crimea in 1991 by the entire international community, including China,” a foreign ministry spokesperson in Paris said.
The spokesperson added that Beijing will have to clarify whether these comments reflect its position.
The three Baltic states, all formerly part of the Soviet Union, reacted along the same lines as France.
“Remarks by the Chinese Ambassador in France concerning international law and sovereignty of nations are completely unacceptable,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics wrote on Twitter.
“We expect explanation from the Chinese side and complete retraction of this statement,” he said.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said: “If anyone is still wondering why the Baltic states don’t trust China to ‘broker peace in Ukraine’, here’s a Chinese ambassador arguing that Crimea is Russian and our countries’ borders have no legal basis.”
Moscow and Beijing have ramped up cooperation in recent years, and Washington has accused Beijing of considering arms exports to Moscow.
China has denied the claims and has sought to portray itself as a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict. It has proposed a vague political solution to the crisis.