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Ukraine needs deft handling

By Liang Qiang (China Daily) Updated: 2014-03-12 07:29

The political upheaval in Ukraine has turned into an international crisis. The crux of the problem lies in whether Russia recognizes Ukraine's interim government and whether Crimea will secede from Ukraine to become a part of Russia. This is a thorny problem for China's diplomacy, too.

Following the ouster of president Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine has an interim government. This government, however, has three drawbacks. First, it assumed office in a most abnormal way. Second, its capability to control local political entities and the state apparatus is questionable. Third, whether it has the support of the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians is not known; only a free and fair national election can decide that.

It is a thorny issue for China because it too has separatist forces trying to split the country. So before taking a stance on such issues, the Chinese government is conditioned to first review the situation within its borders and adopt a prudent approach.

After the end of the Cold War, the demand for self-determination by people in some countries led to serious consequences. So the crisis in Crimea, if mishandled, will lead to a domino effect on the commonwealth of independent states and could even affect Russia.

The crisis has become a chicken game, fueled by missives (rumors and hearsays) with specific political purposes. Verifying the authenticity of the missives is also a challenge for China's diplomacy.

Russia has been (and still is) the most important factor when it comes to resolving the Ukrainian crisis. Therefore, the international community should listen attentively to Russia's position and get to know Russia's concerns. By stubbornly opposing everything concerning Russia, the Western powers show their Cold War mentality, which is not conducive to resolving the crisis, nor is it in line with the trend of international relations.

Therefore, it is vitally important that the Western powers and Russia do not trigger a military confrontation accidentally, and the international community has to urgently find ways to resolve the crisis through political and diplomatic means. Major powers, such as Russia, the United States and NATO, have to agree on which government represents Ukraine.

Although the root cause of the crisis was Ukrainian people's dissatisfaction with the Yanukovych government, now Russia and the Western powers have to reach an understanding over Ukraine's administrative set-up to restore normalcy in the country.

But no matter what the outside powers do, they should not use the fundamental interests of Ukrainians as a bargaining chip to reach a compromise. Ukraine is in urgent need of a government that, with the support of a majority of its citizens, can exercise power, properly handle central-local relations and make use of a balanced diplomacy. This can be achieved by holding general elections in the entire country. Also, Ukraine needs international help to overcome its financial difficulties as soon as possible.

As a responsible power, China wants to prevent the crisis from deteriorating into a Russia-Ukraine military conflict that could begin a new Cold War between Russia and the US. It also wants to maintain its economic interests in Ukraine and ensure a smooth transition of China-Ukraine strategic partnership irrespective of whether Kiev is pro-West or pro-Moscow.

Ukraine is the fulcrum for China to practice its diplomacy of peace and stability in Eurasia, and China has the capability of playing a unique role in ameliorating the situation in Ukraine. It already has strategic partnerships both with Russia and Ukraine, and its own political basis to deal with the crisis. China's views on the Ukrainian crisis have been appropriate, opposed neither by Ukraine nor by outside powers. The most important factor of China's diplomacy is that it does not draw an ideological line in international affairs and is not biased against any side.

China is fully capable of providing humanitarian and economic aid to Ukraine. China has always honored its promise on foreign aid. The question for China is not whether, but when and how, it should get involved to help resolve the Ukrainian crisis.

The author is a research assistant at the Institute of Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies, affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Ukraine needs deft handling