Why is China on the side of the angels regarding Ukraine?

Flag of the People's Republic of China

The calculations that normally make Chinese foreign policy so cynical, have this time lead to it opposing a war of aggression

One of the constants of international diplomacy in the past decade has been China and Russia working in concert to check Western ambitions. So with Russia (metaphorically) under fire from Europe and America over its occupation of the Crimea, one might expect China to be backing it up.

In fact as Foreign Policy reports:

Days after Ukraine’s deposed President Viktor Yanukovych fled his Kiev palace, an unassuming, mid-level Chinese diplomat appeared before the United Nations Security Council to highlight Beijing’s support for the new pro-Western government, marking a rare diplomatic split from Moscow.

“We respect the choice made by the Ukrainian people on the basis of national conditions,” Shen Bo, a counselor at China’s U.N. mission said in a Feb. 24 statement that went largely unnoticed by the international press.

This position partially reflects the principles that China feels should govern international politics:

“China has a pathological fear of other countries meddling in its internal affairs, and to witness Russia so blatantly intervening in Ukraine has to be a source of consternation,” Elizabeth Economy, a China specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Foreign Policy in an email exchange. “Russia’s actions clearly run up against China’s central foreign policy tenet of non-interference in others’ internal affairs. It is a policy that has guided Chinese policy in North Korea, Sudan, Iran and Syria. If it were to upend this principle, it would reflect a seminal change in Chinese foreign policy and leave China much weaker in defense of its inaction in other crisis situations.”

And its own economic interests:

China has invested heavily in Ukraine, reportedly signing a deal in the fall of 2012 guaranteeing Kiev would export 300 million tons of corn each year to China in exchange for access to more than $3 billion in loans. Another more recent report indicates that two Chinese state-owned companies will operate a massive swath of farmland the size of Belgium in the eastern region of Dnipropetrovsk, planting crops and raising pigs for consumption back home.

It is a testament to what an affront to decent international norms Russia’s actions are that they’ve riled even China.

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