China Cautiously Supports Crimea's Secession

China repeated calls for restraint in Ukraine on Monday, a day after a controversial referendum in Crimea overwhelmingly supported seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia. Issues of separatism and self-determination remain sensitive topics in Beijing, and observers have been closely watching China’s response to the situation.

On Monday the Chinese foreign ministry reiterated calls for caution in Ukraine and said the international community should play a constructive role for the relaxation of tensions.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China always respects each country's territorial integrity.

People in Crimea chose to separate from Ukraine on Sunday, in a controversial referendum opposed by the United States and the European Union, which accused Russia of heavy inteference in the balloting.  Western diplomats declared the vote a violation of Ukraine’s constitution.

In forming an official response to Ukraine's crisis, China has been walking a fine line.

By sending military forces and calling for a referendum in Crimea, Russia has evaded two of China's core diplomatic principles: non-interference in other countries' affairs, and protection of territorial integrity.

Despite being an ally of Russia at the United Nations, Beijing abstained from a resolution to declare the referendum in Crimea illegal.

While the draft measure failed to pass because of Russia's veto, some analysts considered China's abstention as a mark of uncertainty in Beijing's backing of Moscow.  But analysts in China dismiss such views.

Feng Shaolei, director of the Center for Russian Studies at East China Normal University, said that in the Ukrainian crisis, there is much common ground between China and Russia.

The two countries, Feng said, agree on the causes of this crisis and throughout this crisis have learned more about each others' position.

The idea of a popular vote to decide the fate of a country's territory remains very sensitive in China. Separatism is seen as an extremist ideology, and one that could pose a dangerous challenge to the Chinese government’s authority in ethnically diverse areas such as Xinjiang or Tibet. China does not tolerate any political movements that advocate separatism within its own borders.

Feng said China has been very cautious in its response to Crimea because it understands the complications in the region. He said Ukraine has long been under Russia's influence, but also had very close relations to the West. Historically, the country has become a gathering spot for the two civilizations.

In such a scenario, he said, it is important for China to remain cautious.

VOA News / Mar. 18, 2014 08:10 KST