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China embassy removes interview transcript on ex-Soviet State

It wasn't clear why the transcript was taken down. At a regular press briefing Monday, Mao Ning, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said she was unaware of the situation

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The Chinese Embassy in France removed a transcript of a controversial interview in which its ambassador questioned the independence of former Soviet Union states, remarks that generated anger across Europe. 
The embassy had initially posted the entire transcript of Ambassador Lu Shaye’s remarks in both Chinese and French on its official WeChat account Monday morning. By noon Beijing time, however, the transcript had been removed, with links saying the content “has been deleted by the author.” The interview also hasn’t been published on the embassy’s official website.

In the interview with French broadcaster LCI that aired Friday, Lu said some “ex-Soviet Union countries” don’t have effective status under international law. 

The comments angered Baltic nations Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which said they’d summon Chinese diplomats in their capitals to explain Lu’s remarks. Top EU diplomat Josep Borrell called the statement “unacceptable.”

Lu also appeared to contradict the official stance of China, which recognized the Baltic states and other newly independent nations shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. President Xi Jinping has reaffirmed that status, writing before a visit to Kazakhstan last year that the two nations supported their “respective sovereignty.” He also cited Uzbekistan’s “independence” in another statement around the same time.

It wasn’t clear why the transcript was taken down. At a regular press briefing Monday, Mao Ning, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said she was unaware of the situation.

Mao also said at that briefing that China “respects the status of the former Soviet republics as sovereign countries after the Soviet Union’s dissolution,” adding that the country’s position is “unchanged.”

The interview also included questions about topics usually deemed sensitive in China. The host mentioned the millions of people who died during former Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s disruptive political movements in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as the recent treatment in China of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

Lu pushed back against criticism in the interview, accusing the host of “quibbling with past slanders” and saying that Western countries face their own human rights issues, according to the transcript.

While the interview transcript was no longer available on the Chinese Embassy’s official WeChat account, screenshots of excerpts were still widely available on the Twitter-like platform Weibo. 

Many users expressed support for the ambassador, praising him for daring to “speak the truth” to the West.

The controversy threatens to undermine Beijing’s efforts to be seen as a peacemaker for Russia’s war in Ukraine, especially given how much China already has touted its ties with Moscow.

Xi seemed to have been making inroads on the peace efforts. He held a visit earlier this month with French President Emmanuel Macron, who has pushed for establishing a framework that could be used as a basis for future negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow.

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First Published: Apr 24 2023 | 2:26 PM IST

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