Ukraine and China have long had a "strategic relationship," but as Beijing and Moscow strengthen their connections while the war continues, Kyiv is unsure of the value of this alliance.
Ukraine's strategic cooperation with Beijing has come under scrutiny due to China's growing ties to Russia. Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnyk described China's attitude as "less and less acceptable" during a panel discussion on international affairs in Kyiv last month.
Since 2011, Ukraine and China have maintained a strategic alliance that has facilitated the growth of their bilateral economic and defence relations. China is a major importer of Ukrainian corn and grains.
Ukraine is a significant exporter of weapons to China. The Liaoning, Beijing's first aircraft carrier, is a restored Soviet ship that was bought from Ukraine.
However, conversations about re-evaluating the bilateral relationship with China are taking place in Kyiv as Russia's assault on Ukraine enters its second year.
According to Yurii Poita, a Ukraine expert at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR) in Taiwan, "For years, Ukraine only saw China from the point of view of opportunity, but since the Russian invasion, Ukrainian experts have become much more critical towards China, and perceive how China could be a risk and challenge for Ukraine's national interest.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, on February 4, 2022. Credit: Li Tao; AP
China and Russia's "no limits" alliance
Although Beijing hasn't publicly endorsed Moscow's stance on the conflict, it has moved to deepen its relations with Moscow as the EU and the US try to isolate it.
China's Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu stated that Beijing aims to strengthen bilateral ties with Russia in 2023 following discussions with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, last week.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is reportedly considering a trip to Moscow this spring, according to state-run Russian media from last week.
The Russian Foreign Ministry stated that a visit by Xi would be "the primary event on the bilateral program for 2023," according to Russia's state-run news outlet Tass, despite Beijing's assertion that no specific date has been agreed for the trip.
According to Poita, a specialist on Ukraine, ideas on altering Kyiv's relationship with Beijing have progressively made their way from Ukrainian think tanks and media analysis to the Foreign Ministry.
During a panel discussion in Kyiv last month, Deputy Foreign Minister Melnyk stated that China's position on the current war could no longer be seen as "neutral," despite Beijing's attempts to assert that it does. I doubt these relationships still have a strategic purpose, Melnyk stated.
According to Ukrainian legislator Kira Rudik, China is assisting Moscow in getting over some Western sanctions while opening up markets for it.
"No one is impartial. Either you back us, or you're scheming with those who want to see us destroyed. It is quite bad what we are currently witnessing from China. Every nation that backs Russia is essentially supporting the conflict. This is extremely painful," she said.
Taiwan and Ukraine's cautious friendship
The invasion by Russia of its smaller neighbour has raised questions about similarities between China's aggressive approach toward Taiwan and a potential Chinese strike. Beijing regards Taiwan as being a part of its country and has threatened to "reunite" the island with the mainland, if necessary by using force.
Additionally, the fighting has boosted relations between Taipei and Kyiv. Taiwan has inked a number of memorandums of understanding over the past two months to assist various Ukrainian cities in purchasing heating and power production equipment while Russia assaults vital infrastructure.
Taiwan has further stated a willingness to assist Ukraine in modernizing its digital infrastructure as part of post-conflict rehabilitation efforts.
They gave $1 million (about €1 million) for generators, and in her opinion, this shows that they support us. According to Ukrainian politician Rudik, "These are the individuals that are backing us, and I think Ukraine should regard Taiwan as a partner."
"Many Ukrainians now realize Taiwan cares about the conflict enough to contribute money to Ukraine to purchase generators so that Ukrainians can withstand one of the worst winters in country history," she continued.
People march against the war in Ukraine during a rally in Taipei, Taiwan, on March 13. SAM YEH/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
"In anticipation of the next escalation phase, Ukraine doesn't need to antagonize China. Suppose it starts openly befriending Taiwan in the next several months. In that case, this will certainly backfire and further lead China to support Russia," Velina Tchakarova, director of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES), told reporters.
According to expert Poita, Ukraine is being extremely cautious since it is aware that doing so may bring China closer to Russia.
"Ukraine is very cautious when it comes to enhancing its ties with Taiwan, but there is still a growing belief among Ukrainian specialists and the parliament that Ukraine ought to do so," he added.
He said, "If Ukraine does not see any pro-Ukrainian moves from Beijing, it shows Kyiv that China is not a strategic partner, and it should set some red lines around its collaboration with China."