09/21/2022, 13.59
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Putin’s decision to hold referenda in occupied Ukraine unsettles Beijing

by Emanuele Scimia

China calls for dialogue and consultation to resolve the crisis. Beijing will not recognise Moscow’s annexation of occupied Ukrainian regions, just as it will not support the Kremlin’s possible nuclear adventurism. The Russian president has failed to heed Xi Jinping's warning on the sidelines of the SCO summit.

Rome (AsiaNews) – The Chinese government has wasted no time in expressing uneasiness following the announcement Russian President Vladimir Putin made today about his "special military operation" (invasion) in Ukraine.

In a much-awaited speech, the Russian leader voiced his support for the phoney referenda, scheduled from 23 to 27 September in occupied Ukrainian territories for their annexation to Russia. Russia’s strongman also ordered a partial mobilisation of 300,000 reservists to face Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China urged the parties to engage in dialogue and consultation to address the concerns of all parties involved.

In his address Putin spoke of “nuclear blackmail” by the West, stressing that Russia will defend its territory by any means.

The fear is that once parts of the Donbass, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions are annexed (like Crimea), the Kremlin might resort to the preventive use of tactical nuclear weapons in case these territories were attacked by Ukraine (as is already the case).

Wang stressed that his government’s position on Ukraine is clear and consistent. China unofficially backs Russia, but is careful not to incur in indirect Western sanctions.

In practice, China is buying more Russian oil, gas and coal, but has not provided any military aid nor invested in Russia since the outbreak of the war in February.

Putin met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on 15 September, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

On that occasion, the Russian leader admitted for the first time that China had expressed concerns and raised questions about the operation against Ukraine (as did Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi).

According to several analysts, Putin’s call-up of reservists and his support for referenda are a sign that he is in trouble in Ukraine, grappling with Kyiv’s military pressure and the effects of Western sanctions.

Whatever the case, he will certainly not find any support in Beijing for this. China has not in fact recognised Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 nor the independence of pro-Russian separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk (Lugansk), proclaimed seven months ago.

Beijing, which will do the same with Moscow’s new territorial “acquisitions”, is also looking with horror at Russia’s possible use of nuclear devices.

Before the SCO summit, Xi sent a clear message to Putin, which emerged in meetings with the heads of state of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, namely that China strongly supports the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of states with ethnic Russians.

The issue is non-negotiable since China itself claims to be fighting “separatism” in Taiwan, Xinjiang (by Uyghurs), Tibet and Inner Mongolia, a point the man in the Kremlin seems to have failed to grasp.

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