China Says Ukraine, Taiwan Can't Be Compared, But Xi Wants Land Back Too

A Chinese official has told Newsweek that the issues of Ukraine and Taiwan were entirely separate, but at the same time has stressed that the self-ruling island is a part of China in language mirroring Russian President Vladimir Putin's own speech questioning the sovereignty of a neighboring country against which he has since ordered military action.

"Taiwan is an inalienable part of China's territory and there is only one China in the world," Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for Beijing's embassy in Washington, told Newsweek. "This is an irrefutable historical and legal fact."

Asked if China saw comparisons in Washington's approach to sending arms to Kyiv despite Moscow's protests and offering weapons to Taipei in spite of Beijing's challenges, Liu said "the Taiwan issue and the Ukraine issue can't be compared."

The remarks before Putin ordered a series of overnight air and missile strikes Wednesday as part of a "special military operation" to "demilitarize" Ukraine, which he has demanded not be allowed into the U.S.-led NATO military alliance.

On Monday, the Russian leader recognized two self-proclaimed rebel republics in Ukraine's east in a speech in which he said Ukraine was "not just a neighboring country for us" but "an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space." He also argued that "modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia" during the onset of the Soviet Union and "never had stable traditions of real statehood."

Beijing, for its part, had forged a "strategic partnership" with Kyiv, though this relationship was dwarfed by the "comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for the new era" that has been reached by China and Russia. Chinese officials have blamed the mounting tensions over Ukraine on a failure to implement the Minsk Agreements signed between Kyiv and rebels in the early stages of the war that broke out in the wake of a 2014 uprising that brought a pro-West government to power.

"What has happened on the Ukraine issue has much to do with the long delay in the effective implementation of the Minsk-2 agreement," Liu said. "China will continue to engage all parties based on the merits of the matter itself."

But as Putin condemned Ukraine's acquisition of U.S. and allied military assistance, China too has repeatedly condemned Washington's aid to Taipei.

"By selling arms to Taiwan, the U.S. interfered in China's internal affairs, undermined China's sovereignty and security interests and violated international law and basic norms governing international relations," Liu said.

On Tuesday, Wednesday local time, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying spoke at length about the Ukraine issue during a press conference, stating that "China is always committed to promoting peace and negotiation and playing a constructive role in seeking a peaceful resolution of these issues."

But as President Joe Biden's administration sought to lay the blame squarely on the Kremlin for the crisis, Hua said Washington was at fault for exacerbating the dispute by providing weapons to Kyiv and raising the alarm about the possibility of an all-out war erupting between Ukraine and Russia.

"On the Ukraine issue, lately the U.S. has been sending weapons to Ukraine, heightening tensions, creating panic and even hyping up the possibility of warfare," Hua said. "In stark contrast, China has all along called on all parties to respect and attach importance to each other's legitimate security concerns, strive to resolve issues through negotiation and consultation, and jointly safeguard regional peace and stability."

She argued that "a key question here is what role the U.S., the culprit of current tensions surrounding Ukraine, has played" and emphasized that Beijing would not join in on any "illegal unilateral sanctions" issued by Washington against Moscow.

china, eastern, theater, command, peoples, liberation, army
Chinese People's Liberation Army units of the Eastern Theater Command's 72nd Group Army fire vehicle-mounted howitzers during a training exercise in this photo published December 27, 2021. The Eastern Theater Command is widely seen as the vanguard force for any conflict over Taiwan. Chinese People's Liberation Army

But Hua too rejected any comparisons with China's own territorial dispute, saying that "Taiwan for sure is not Ukraine."

And she also noted, "Taiwan has always been an inalienable part of China's territory. This is an indisputable historical and legal fact."

"The one-China principle is a universally recognized norm governing international relations," Hua said. "The Taiwan region's peace hinges on the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, rather than fawning on foreign forces for arms sales and military support. 'Taiwan independence' only leads to a dead end. No one shall have any illusion or make any miscalculation on this issue."

But she acknowledged that "since the Ukraine crisis broke out, Taiwan has been frequently mentioned by some people," though she said, "some of their remarks fully reveal their lack of knowledge of the history of the Taiwan question."

"It is common knowledge that the Taiwan question was caused by a civil war, and there is political confrontation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait due to that civil war," Hua said. "However, China's sovereignty and territory have never been divided and cannot be divided. This is the status quo of the Taiwan question."

The Chinese civil war ended in 1949 with the Communist Party ruling the mainland as the People's Republic of China and nationalists fleeing to the island of Taiwan, which still claims the official title, the Republic of China. Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to reclaim the island through diplomacy or force and Washington has only increased its informal relations and military ties with Taipei.

While Ukraine is a United Nations member state, Taiwan is not and only has diplomatic ties with 13 countries and the Holy See.

Contacted by Newsweek, a spokesperson for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York declined to comment on Ukraine-related issues, but shared a statement Wednesday from President Tsai Ing-wen's office in which she issued a directive to "Condemn Russia's infringement on Ukrainian sovereignty while calling on all parties to peacefully resolve disputes in a rational manner."

"Our government condemns Russia's infringement on Ukraine's sovereignty—infringement which has led to increased tensions on the Russia-Ukraine border, and calls on all parties to continue working peacefully toward a rational resolution to the dispute in order to jointly uphold peace and stability in the region," the statement said. "As a member of the international community, Taiwan is willing to participate in all efforts that contribute to a peaceful resolution of this dispute."

Other directives were designed to "Ensure our national security by continuing to strengthen our readiness to respond to military developments in the Taiwan Strait" and "Comprehensively strengthen our response to cognitive warfare and shore up public morale."

"In terms of geostrategic factors, geography, and the importance of our role in international supply chains, the situations in Taiwan and Ukraine are fundamentally different," the statement said. "But as external forces attempt to manipulate developments in Ukraine, affecting morale among the people of Taiwan, our government agencies must step up their guard against cognitive warfare from external forces as well as their local collaborators, and must strengthen efforts to clarify disinformation in order to ensure Taiwan's domestic social stability."

Back in Beijing, however, Hua said it was Taiwan that was attempting to take advantage of the Ukraine crisis for its own benefit.

"It is unwise of certain people of the Taiwan authorities to latch on to and exploit the Ukraine issue to their advantage," Hua said.

On Thursday, Chinese National Defense Ministry spokesperson Senior Colonel Tan Kefei lashed out at Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party over the decision to hold recent military readiness drills and over criticism of recent People's Liberation Army exercises featuring anti-submarine helicopters circling the island.

Tan accused the DPP for seeking foreign support and stirring up cross-strait relations and asserted that Chinese forces would continue to conduct such training around Taiwan. And he also criticized the content related to the depiction of China and calls got greater U.S. support for Taiwan in the Biden administration's "Indo-Pacific Strategy" released last week.

"The Taiwan question concerns China's core interests and brooks no external meddling," Tan said. "The U.S. side is urged to fully realize the high sensitivity of the Taiwan question, and stop playing fire on it and interfering in China's internal affairs."

Asked about a recent meeting between Japanese Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo and U.S. ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel that accused China of trying to alter the status quo in the region and condemned Russia's actions in Ukraine, Tan said that "China has always maintained that exchanges and cooperation between relevant countries should be conducive to maintaining regional peace and stability, and should not target or damage the interests of third parties"

But given Washington and Tokyo's growing support for Taipei, Tan argued that the two "have ignored the basic norms of international relations, grossly interfered in China's internal affairs, and deliberately hyped and manipulated Taiwan-related issues on various occasions."

"It poses a serious threat and allows the international community to see clearly which countries and who are breaking international rules, violating the sovereignty of other countries, and creating regional instability," he added.

Taiwan and Ukraine were also both on the agenda during Secretary of State Antony Blinken's call Tuesday with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

While the State Department readout simply noted that Blinken "underscored the need to preserve Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," the Chinese Foreign Ministry released a far lengthier account in which Wang condemned the Biden administration's "Indo-Pacific Strategy," arguing that it "publicly listed China as the top regional challenge, and tried to include the strategy of 'using Taiwan to contain China' into the U.S. regional strategy, which is obviously sending a wrong signal of beleaguering and containing China."

He called for a greater effort to manage relations between the two top powers or risk a major conflict between them.

"There is competition and cooperation between China and the United States," Wang said. "We cannot simply use competition to define bilateral relations."

"Some U.S. officials have advocated a long-term and fierce competition with China, which is likely to evolve into a full-scale confrontation between China and the United States," he added. "China once again urges the United States to take concrete actions to reflect the series of commitments made by President Biden."

On Ukraine, Wang said that "the legitimate security concerns of any country should be respected, and the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter should be upheld."

"China will continue to make contact with all parties based on the merits of the matter," Wang said. "The situation in Ukraine is getting worse. China once again calls on all parties to exercise restraint, recognize the importance of implementing the principle of indivisibility of security, ease the situation and resolve differences through dialogue and negotiation."

Reached for comment by Newsweek, the State Department referred to spokesperson Ned Price's press briefing Wednesday in which he said "we often in statecraft hear the PRC cite this principle of sovereignty, which in any number of instances they have claimed should be inviolable, should be sacrosanct, should be one of the foundational rules that countries abide by and respect."

"So you'll have to ask the PRC how they marry that longstanding position with anything less than an effort to use the considerable influence and sway they have with the Russian Federation to urge Vladimir Putin to back down, to de-escalate," Price said. "Whether they are doing that, you'll have to ask them."

"But we did see in the readout that our PRC counterparts are also calling for the situation to be resolved diplomatically and to be resolved peacefully," he added. "Now, whether Putin heeds that call, I think that is not something we yet know."

During a separate press conference Wednesday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby pointed to remarks from Wang and Hua, as well as a joint statement released after the high-profile February 4 summit between Xi and Putin at the beginning of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing as evidence of China's "tacit approval for what Mr. Putin is doing" in Ukraine. He criticized Beijing for "somehow blaming us for this issue."

"No mention whatsoever in their statement about the 150,000+ soldiers and the threats that Mr. Putin has been lobbying against Ukraine now for many weeks including just yesterday," Kirby said. "We wonder, can it really be the Chinese policy now to support separatist movements over the sovereignty of nation states? That's an interesting twist, isn't it?"

After hostilities erupted in Ukraine, Wang spoke via telephone with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov for a conversation in which the top Chinese diplomat "China always respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries" but "at the same time, we have also seen that the Ukraine issue has a complex historical context and longitude, and we understand Russia's legitimate concerns on security issues."

"China advocates that the Cold War mentality should be completely abandoned," Wang said, "and a balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism should be finally formed through dialogue and negotiation."

This is a developing news story. More information will be added as it becomes available.