Lu Shaye (pictured) is China’s ambassador to France (Photo provided by Benoit Tessier/Reuters/Files)
Recently, China’s ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, made remarks which had Europe outraged and China trying to distance itself from him.
Last week, in an interview with the French network La Chaîne Info (LCI), Lu was asked about his country’s stance on the Crimean peninsula, a former part of Ukraine that was brought under Russian occupation in 2014. According to the interviewer, it is considered under international law to be a part of Ukraine. Lu responded that the peninsula was originally a part of Russia, but it was given to Ukraine by former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954.
However, he also said that former Soviet countries like Ukraine shouldn’t rely on international law to justify their sovereignty. “Even these former Soviet countries don’t have an effective status under international law because there is no international agreement under international law to concretize their status as sovereign countries,” said Lu.
This stance is similar to the one made by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, a few days before starting the invasion, questioned Ukraine’s right to state sovereignty, claiming that Ukraine was a big part of Russian culture despite what international law might say. China has been trying to represent itself as a peace broker with no affiliation to one side or the other ever since the start of the invasion. However, Bejing has refused to officially condemn the invasion and instead accused the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of fueling the conflict by supplying weapons. These remarks made by its ambassador could spell disaster for its already deteriorating relations with Europe and other Western nations.
Immediately after these remarks aired live on television, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, baltic states which were once part of the USSR, summoned their own Chinese representatives to ask for clarification. As stated by Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, their Chinese envoy will be asked if “China’s position has changed … and reminded we’re not post-Soviet countries but countries that were illegally occupied by the Soviet Union.”
Other foreign officials from countries part of the European Union (EU) also made their criticisms of the comments shortly before the EU was to have a meeting on its relationship with China on Monday. “We are surprised about Chinese (ambassador’s) statements questioning sovereignty of countries declaring independence in ’91.” stated the Moldovan Foreign Ministry’s Twitter account. “Our expectations are that these declarations do not represent China’s official policy.” The Czech foreign ministry also stated that the comments were “unacceptable,” and the French foreign ministry said that Lu should be given a “stern rebuke.” “We have been talking a lot about China (over) the last days, but we will have to continue discussing about China because it’s one of the most important issues for our foreign policy,” said EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.
On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning rejected Lu’s comments as being those of the position of China. “The Chinese side respects the status of the member states as sovereign states after the collapse of the Soviet Union,” stated Ning. She also mentioned how China was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic ties with former Soviet countries after the USSR had collapsed in 1991. Later, the Chinese embassy in France also stated that the comments made by Lu were only reflective of his personal opinion and not that of Bejing.
However, this isn’t the first time Lu has gotten involved in diplomatic drama like this. Lu has often been called a “wolf warrior,” a diplomatic strategy named after the Chinese action movie Wolf Warrior 2. The term often refers to diplomats who are confrontational and confronting to those they see as a threat to China. Lu has been summoned numerous times by the French government to explain his comments, one of the most recent examples being the time he suggested that France had abandoned its elderly citizens in care homes when the pandemic struck. Last August, he also said that following a Chinese takeover of Taiwan, its citizens would be “re-educated” in specialized camps. However, Lu has expressed pride for being labeled as a wolf warrior, stating how there are many “mad hyenas” attacking China.