In China, where the internet is heavily censored and most foreign news websites are blocked, citizens are following the unfolding of the Ukraine crisis on the country’s largest social media platform, Weibo. For foreign governments, “Weibo diplomacy” is one of the few channels available to them in China to explain or promote their countries’ policies.
On Monday (Feb. 21), Russian president Vladimir Putin recognized two Moscow-backed breakaway regions in Ukraine as independent republics, prompting a whirlwind of condemnations and sanctions from the US, the UK and the EU. China has urged countries involved in the escalating situation to exercise restraint and to find a diplomatic solution, as Beijing tries to strike a delicate balance between Russia and Ukraine.
In the wake of those developments, Ukraine, Russia and others shared statements on Weibo, prompting some internet users to joke that the Chinese platform has become a place for “court hearings for international affairs.”
On Tuesday, the country’s embassy in China said on Weibo (link in Chinese) that it condemns Russia’s recognition of the two separatist areas.
The Ukrainian side understands Russia’s intention and desire to provoke Ukraine. Taking all risks into account, we will not succumb to provocation and continue to work on political and diplomatic solutions to the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict…We insist on imposing tough sanctions on Russia to send a clear signal that no further escalation is allowed. It is time to act to end Russian aggression and restore peace and stability in Europe.
Shortly after Ukraine’s statement on Weibo, the Russian embassy in China uploaded a picture of Putin signing a decree to recognize the two Ukrainian areas as independent. It also posted a Chinese translation of excerpts from Putin’s Monday speech about Ukraine, in which he questioned its very claim to statehood.
I would like to be clear and straightforward: in the current circumstances, when our proposals for an equal dialogue on fundamental issues have actually remained unanswered by the United States and NATO, when the level of threats to our country has increased significantly, Russia has every right to respond in order to ensure its security. That is exactly what we will do.
The EU cited a statement by Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, who said they “condemn in the strongest possible terms” Russia’s move.
This step is a blatant violation of international law as well as of the Minsk agreements. The Union will react with sanctions against those involved in this illegal act.
The US embassy posted a statement by secretary of state Antony Blinken on the crisis. The US statement said in part:
States have an obligation not to recognize a new “state” created through the threat or use of force, as well as an obligation not to disrupt another state’s borders. Russia’s decision is yet another example of President Putin’s flagrant disrespect for international law and norms.
In response, many Chinese internet users commented under it to ask why the country doesn’t show the same respect for the integrity of China’s territory—an apparent reference to Taiwan.