Chinese President Xi Jingping and newly-appointed Interim Ukraine President Olexsandr Turchynov. Photos: Reuters, EPA

Ukraine upheaval puts China arms deals in jeopardy

Military and economic ties could be at risk with Kiev's move towards EU

China's relationship with Ukraine faces an uncertain future with the naming of a pro-Western interim president, according to observers.

The appointment followed three months of protests over a Russian-EU tug-of-war that brought Kiev to a standstill.

At stake are Beijing's military and economic relations with Ukraine, which could face obstacles in the likelihood that Kiev's leaders will turn away from Russia's grip and move closer to the European Union.

Watch: Mixed opinions over Yanukovych's downfall in his Ukraine home town

"This will have a negative impact on co-operation between China and Ukraine in the short run," said Cui Hongjian , director of European studies at the China Institute of International Studies.

Ukraine's political crisis took a dramatic twist on Sunday when parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Turchynov was named interim leader.

The protests erupted after former president Viktor Yanukovych - who is believed to have fled the country and is now facing criminal charges - ditched a key EU trade pact rather than upset Moscow, which offered Kiev billions in aid.


Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a press briefing on Monday that China had been closely following the situation in Ukraine and called for the crisis to be resolved through consultation.

The change of government … will create uncertainty about trade

"China does not interfere in Ukraine's internal affairs, respects the independent choice made by the Ukrainian people in keeping with Ukraine's national conditions and stands ready to foster strategic partnership with the Ukrainian side on an equal footing," she said.

The EU imposed an arms embargo on China in 1989 over Beijing's crackdown on dissidents, thus cutting it off from direct transfers of weapons and defence technologies.

But China's military modernisation has made it less dependent on foreign arms.


There is a strong push in Ukraine to join the EU, and if it does, it might have to drop its arms trade with China to conform with the EU embargo.

Ukraine became the fourth-largest arms exporter in 2012, after the United States, Russia and China, according to global security expert Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.


Ukraine has played a key role in engine production, and the maintenance of China's fighter jets and other aircraft. In fact, China's first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, was built in Ukraine.

China has also co-operated with Ukraine over gas turbines in the Chinese Aegis destroyer, and the diesel engine for the Al-Khalid tank developed for Pakistan, according to Taiwan-based Want China Times.

Kiev and Beijing were brought closer earlier this year by a security agreement. The treaty signed by President Xi Jinping and Yanukovych in January says Beijing will guarantee Ukraine security if the nation is under threat of a nuclear invasion.


Economically, China has also been stepping up its trade with Ukraine. In December, Yanukovych said he had secured US$8 billion in Chinese investments for his ailing economy after talks with President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

But Yang Cheng, the deputy director of the Centre for Russian Studies at East China Normal University in Shanghai, said the situation in Ukraine would remain chaotic no matter which power - the EU or Russia - Kiev ended up choosing.

"The change of government in Ukraine will definitely create uncertainty on whether the momentum for trade co-operation between Kiev and Beijing will remain as strong as it has been", Yang said.


But he said Ukraine, no matter its political choices, would still welcome Chinese investment because economic co-operation with either the EU or Russia alone would not be enough to bail out its battered economy.

Zhang Shengjun, deputy dean of the Institute of Political Science and International Studies at Beijing Normal University, said China would rely less on Ukraine for military development but would continue pouring in investment to maintain its influence.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: China-Ukraine arms trade in doubt