China is facing a dilemma over the Ukraine crisis as it seeks to balance its concern about maintaining good relations with Russia and protecting its international standing and approach to Taiwan . International relations experts said Russian President Vladimir Putin ’s decision to formally recognise Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine as independent entities left Beijing in a tricky position because of its stated opposition to separatism. “Russia’s decision to let Donetsk and Luhansk seek independence is a slap in the face for Beijing, as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi just stressed the importance of respect for all countries’ sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity ,” said Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based defence analyst. Wang had stated Beijing’s position at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday and again in a phone conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday. “Putin is trying to use the ongoing tensions between China and the United States over their escalating competition in the Indo-Pacific, because it’s impossible for Beijing to join with Washington in criticising Moscow.” Chao Chun-shan, an emeritus professor of China studies at Tamkang University in Taiwan, said Russia’s recognition of the two Ukraine regions has put Beijing in an embarrassing position. “To the mainland [China], for the same race to be separated into two smaller countries somewhat resembles the cross-strait situation, making it difficult for Beijing to follow Putin’s move in recognising the independence of the two Ukraine regions,” Chao said. Russian lawmakers give Putin green light to use force in eastern Ukraine Wang told Blinken China is concerned about developments in Ukraine, adding that Beijing would stay in touch with all parties and was calling for restraint. Ni said Putin’s endorsement of 2014 referendums held by separatist movements in eastern Ukraine could be used by Taiwan’s ruling party, the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, to bolster the drive for independence. Cheng Yijun, a researcher into Sino-Russian relations at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China was likely to stick to its current stance. “Russia is China’s strategic partner, while Ukraine is also a friend. Russia’s move to deploy troops to eastern Ukraine should be blamed from a moral perspective, but based on China’s national interest it is not meaningful for Beijing to condemn it,” he said. Cheng cited previous events involving Russia, such as the 2008 war with Georgia and the invasion of Crimea in 2014, and said it was likely to stick to its stance of calling for restraint without fully backing one side or the other. Eagle Yin, a research fellow at the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies in Beijing, said the crisis in Ukraine was caused by the security imbalance in Europe after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991. “Beijing wants to highlight that the ongoing Ukraine crisis is not the same type of issue as Taiwan, because the Ukraine problem might drag the whole of Europe into disaster if Russia and the US-led Nato fail to come up with a comprehensive solution,” Yin said. Biden calls moves on Ukraine start of invasion, imposes sanctions on Russia Cheng also said that Ukraine, unlike Taiwan, was a sovereign member of the United Nations. “The only similarities are that both Taiwan and Ukraine are weak parties dealing with strong powers , which will help them win sympathy in the international community,” Cheng said. Other analysts said Beijing’s economic interests had been harmed by Putin’s deployment of troops in eastern Ukraine. “Strategically China does not have much to gain from the Russian annexation of parts of Ukraine, and it has much to lose economically as Ukraine is an important gateway for China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Europe,” said Wen-Ti Sung, a lecturer in international relations and China studies at the Australian National University. “China is unlikely to voice support for this Russian violation of China’s rhetorical and economic interests.” China replaced Russia as Ukraine’s largest single trading partner two years ago, according to the State Statistics Service in Kyiv. Since the beginning of 2021, Ukraine has exported over US$4.9 billion worth of goods and imported US$5.5 billion worth of goods.