On the last day of the second week of the Normandy summit in July, the Baltic countries sealed an agreement on mutual defence and the extension of their alliance. The Baltics are a region that is still trying to find its feet. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, they found themselves cut off from the rest of the world.
It was then that they started to question their independence. For the people of the region, the alliance with NATO is a demonstration of strength.
But for some, this has been a risk too far. They worry that if their countries are ever attacked, the response from the alliance will be swift and decisive. They want to be sure that whoever comes to their defence is backed by a similar guarantee.
This article explains why some Chinese artists are supporting Ukraine, and what they hope will come from it.
China and Ukraine
In a recent survey, Ukrainians revealed that they are most friendly towards China. This has been a theme for the past few years. In fact, a poll conducted in 2010 found that 83% of Ukrainians thought China was their country’s top trading partner.
A survey released in May 2014 even found that Ukrainians are more likely to support China than any other country in Europe.
From an artistic point of view, this might sound surprising. Many Chinese artists might associate themselves with political or even revolutionary causes, but they rarely paint political subjects.
Art could, of course, be used as a tool to promote any cause. The artist and gallerist Yao Wenli believes that art is a reflection of one’s beliefs and if one’s country is at war, one should be more willing to support the cause.
Art and cultural exchange
In the past decade, the number of cultural exchanges between China and Europe has grown tremendously. In 2004, Luxembourg became the first western European country to recognize officially the “cultural revolution” in China.
Today, the number of cultural exchanges between China and the EU has grown by a factor of 10. This means that the number of Chinese people who visit Europe has grown by a factor of 10.
In total, there are around 6 million Chinese tourists visiting Europe each year. In comparison, only 1.2 million Ukrainians visited the EU in 2013.
The number of Chinese students studying in Europe has grown by a factor of 10 since 2004. In France, there are around 100,000 Chinese students, the largest contingent coming from China’s southern neighbour, South Korea.
China and the Euro-Maidan Revolution
The close relationship between the Baltic countries and Ukraine has been warm for a long time. The first signs of a potential friendship were seen in the joint declaration of the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych in 2010.
Since then, the number of artistic exchanges has grown dramatically. In Moscow, the Museum of the Euro-Maidan Revolution has become a frequent stop for Chinese art collectors.
At the same time, however, there have also been tensions. In its 2014 annual report, the EU Security and Cooperation Report ranked Ukraine as number one in the list of countries that have “impermissibly interfered” in the internal affairs of other states.
Russia has also been accused of meddling in the affairs of other countries, including Crimea. The question is whether the close relationship between China and Ukraine will be able to withstand these pressures.
It is important to note that this is not the first time that the Chinese have supported a prizewinner from eastern Ukraine. In the past, they have organized artistic exchanges between the two countries, including in Minsk, the city where the Euro-Maidan revolution is remembered.
Furthermore, the Chinese government has decided to send an official delegation to the Euro-Maidan celebrations in Kyiv next week.
What China wants from Ukraine
The main demand of the Chinese government is for the Ukrainian government to respect its sovereignty. After all, the China-EU agreement on corporate responsibilities was signed by the three parties. The deal was meant to promote the development of the Russian-based economy by making China more transparent.
At the same time, the government also wants to promote its own brands of food and drink in eastern Europe, in particular its brand of alcohol, which is widely consumed in Russia.
China’s other main demand is for the Ukrainian government to implement economic and labor reforms. Kyiv has often been accused of being too dependent on Russian sources of income and of having little interest in developing its own economy.
In order to be sure that business comes back to Kyiv, the Chinese government also hopes that the Ukrainian government will free trade terms will be liberalized.
Finally, the government also wants to find ways to improve the overall political environment in Ukraine. In particular, it wants to see a free and fair election in the next few months.
The future of bilateral relations
In his remarks in Kyiv, Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized the importance of peaceful and stable relations between China and the European countries. He also hoped to see the same for Russia and the European countries.
In his view, these could be taken as examples of how such stable and peaceful relations have been achieved between China and Europe.
Of course, any demand for greater respect for one’s international obligations by a country does not mean that the latter is in breach of its obligations. On the contrary, the willingness to accept limitations on one’s own side is one of the important prerequisites for any kind of successful negotiation and the implementation of mutual confidence building measures.