BEIJING— China's leaders are closely watching the political developments Ukraine, following the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych. The former leader angered the opposition when he rejected a trade deal with the European Union in favor of aid from Russia. Now with a pro-West interim president, the tug of war between East and West over Ukraine continues, and China seems determined to stay out of the fray.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, says Beijing wants to establish a strategic partnership with Ukraine and work with the country bilaterally on economic aid.
The cash-strapped nation will need an economic lifeline. China pledged $8 billion in aid during former President Yanukovych’s visit to Beijing in December. That was in addition to $10 billion China had previously invested in Ukraine.
Ukraine has returned those favors with weapons and land deals favorable to China. In 2012, Ukraine became the fourth-largest arms exporter in the world, with many of those exports going to China. China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was built in Ukraine.
Last year, Ukraine agreed to lease 5 percent of its land to China to grow crops and raise pigs for sale to Chinese state-owned companies. As part of that deal China promised to build highways and bridges in the country.
Bill Bishop, an analyst specializing in China affairs, says that while China watches the political upheaval in Ukraine for how it will effect its trade deals with the country, it may also be studying the Ukrainian revolution for another reason - to learn how to avoid similar protests at home.
“The other lesson is very clear, which is that you need to have a very robust and strong security service," Bishop noted, "and you have to basically stamp out anything, the slightest little sprout that crops up you have to crush.”
Among other things, a weak economy and official corruption sparked protests in Ukraine. Chinese leaders have already vowed to bolster China’s economy and have launched a widespread crackdown on official corruption. While those problems still persist in China, Bishop says the Ukrainian revolution may not inspire Chinese citizens to stage mass demonstrations. He said China has allowed uncensored broadcast of the Ukrainian protests.
“So it’s been very interesting how they sort-of allow the coverage to go on and I think part of that is because Kyiv is a mess, and it looks like a mess and I think most Chinese people don’t want to live in a mess,” Bishop said.
Ukraine’s interim leadership has announced presidential elections will be held on May 25.