Chinese media launched a huge propaganda campaign against Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky this week after he called for the world to take “pre-emptive measures” should China threaten to attack Taiwan.
Since the Ukrainian leader commented on the Taiwan issue last Saturday, mainland Chinese websites, together with some pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong and Taiwan, have published dozens of articles and videos to promote the idea that the West has lost interest in supporting Zelensky and tried to persuade him to compromise by yielding territory for peace.
They mainly cited recent remarks by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who commented on the possibility of future negotiation of a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden’s administration announced on Wednesday an additional $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine to fight Russia, while top leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Romania met with Zelensky in Kiev on Thursday to show unity.
At the same time, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call reiterated the two countries’ close partnership.
Since Russian troops launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the European Union and the US have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia. The sanctions included the freezing of Russia’s overseas assets, the disconnection of Russian banks from the SWIFT system and a plan to stop using Russian energy by the end of this year.
To avoid facing secondary sanctions or trade bans, Beijing had kept a distance fron the Kremlin for several months until last Saturday.
At the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 11, Josh Rogin, a columnist for The Washington Post, asked Zelensky in a video call about how Taiwan could stand strong in the face of an invasion by China.
“I think today’s Ukraine is an example for the whole world,” Zelensky said in what stretched out into a two-minute answer. “The world must always support preemptive measures to forestall violence and wars because there is no positive aspect coming from wars,” he said, adding that no one but ambitious political leaders could benefit from wars.
“We need diplomatic resolutions to support countries that are in need of help. We must not leave them behind to the mercy of another country which is more powerful in financial, territorial and equipment terms,” he said – without mentioning Taiwan.
“We have noted that President Zelensky didn’t mention Taiwan when answering the question,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a regular briefing on Monday. “As some media pointed out, some people are simply raising the question about Taiwan in order to try to put words in Zelensky’s mouth.”
Wang said the Taiwan question was fundamentally different in nature from the Ukraine issue as the former was purely China’s internal affair.
On Sunday, RT, a TV network funded by the Russian government, said NATO’s Stoltenberg had recently met with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Brussels and raised a question about how much territory and sovereignty the Ukrainian government would sacrifice for a peace agreement with Russia.
The RT report was then translated into Chinese and cited by China Central Television (CCTV), a state-owned broadcaster controlled by the Communist Party of China (CPC), on Monday.
“Peace is possible. The only question is: what price are you willing to pay for peace? How much territory, independence and sovereignty are you willing to sacrifice for peace?” CCTV said, citing a direct quote of Stoltenberg in its report.
CCTV said Stoltenberg believed that Finland’s decision to yield part of Karelia to the Soviet Union to secure a peace agreement was the reason that “Finland was able to come out of the Second World War as an independent, sovereign nation.”
Over the past two days, Chinese media have published a large number of commentaries and videos, saying that NATO had changed its stance in the Russian-Ukrainian war and lost interest in supporting Zelensky.
The Beijing Daily, a mouthpiece of the CPC, said in an article on Tuesday that Stoltenberg’s comments implied that NATO members wanted Ukraine to compromise on territory and end the war, which had lasted for more than 100 days and cost a lot of money.
The article said Western countries could not survive the current high inflation, the oil and gas crisis and supply-chain disruptions and they expected that Ukrainian troops would not be able to win back the eastern region, which had been occupied by Russia.
In an extreme case, one article said the West was going to replace Zelensky with Ukrainian General Valerii Zaluzhnyi. But that article was criticized by Chinese netizens for spreading rumors.
In fact, Stoltenberg’s full remarks are available on NATO’s website.
“Peace is possible – that’s not the question anyway,” he said. “The question is: What price are you willing to pay for peace? How much territory? How much independence? How much sovereignty? How much freedom? How much democracy are you willing to sacrifice for peace?
“And that’s a very difficult moral dilemma. And it’s for those who are paying the highest price to make that judgment. Our responsibility is to support them,” Stoltenberg said.
“One of the reasons actually Finland was able to come out of the Second World War as an independent, sovereign nation with most of your territory intact, was that you fought so hard during the Winter War. So you demonstrated a willingness to actually impose a high cost on a potential adversary trying to take your territory,” Stoltenberg told Niinistö.
In a phone call on Wednesday, Xi and Putin exchanged views on the Ukraine issue, Xinhua reported.
Xi said all parties should push for a proper settlement of the Ukraine crisis in a responsible manner while China would continue to play its due role for this purpose.
Xi said China was also willing to work with Russia to promote solidarity and cooperation among emerging-market countries and developing nations, and push for the development of the international order and global governance in a more just and reasonable direction.
Putin said Russia opposed any outside force interfering with China’s internal affairs by using issues regarding Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, among others, as an excuse, according to the Xinhua report.
Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3