Photo by Brian Matangelo on Unsplash

China is more than happy to invest in Ukraine, but the country needs to step back from being too dependent on the West, says one Chinese expert. 

Last week, China and Ukraine announced that China will be making several investments in infrastructure in Ukraine, and new details have now been made public. The deal has taken three years to complete, and China is set to invest in Ukrainian bridges, highways, and railways, according to The South China Morning Post. It will make Ukraine a more significant part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, which is supposed to develop a better trade route between China and the European market, focusing on the EU. 

The deal could mean better infrastructure in Ukraine, but it is not so much that which is attracting attention these days in the media. Instead, several sources point out that China decided to finally sign the agreement, only after Ukraine withdrew its statement criticizing China’s policies in Xinjiang and urging China to allow UN human rights chief access.

“Ukraine can only embrace China more since both the EU and Nato have not shown much interest in Ukraine joining for now,” said Li Lifan, a senior fellow at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, “… China aims to have more high-quality overseas investment projects in this first year of the five-year plan, while Ukraine needs more infrastructure investment to support its economic development as well as the Chinese market to export its food.”

Yang Jin, an expert on Russian affairs from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told The South China Morning Post that Ukraine is trying to “find a balance between China, Russia, and the United States.”

The road forward

Both experts told the paper that Ukraine and China have many common interests in the economy and that it is logical that the two countries will cooperate more. However, they are not confident that there is a connection between Ukraine’s withdrawal of its statement and China signing the infrastructure deal. Other experts, however, see things differently. 

Song Kui, who is the president of the Contemporary China-Russia Regional Economy Research Institute, told the Chinese paper Global Times that Ukraine needs to do more to detach itself from the West if it wants more investments moving forward. 

“If Kyiv can recognize the situation and get rid of the country’s dependence on the West, the prospects for China-Ukraine cooperation are good,” said Kui, “… Cooperation is undoubtedly beneficial to Ukraine’s economic development. Now, infrastructure is the cooperation focus. I believe that in the future, more cooperation will be carried out in industry and high technology.”

The Global Times also quoted the Chinese Foreign Ministry for saying that Ukraine’s withdrawal from signing the statement showed “Ukraine’s spirit of independence and its respect for facts.” 

Motor Sich – the ghost from the past

In the new deal, China and Ukraine commit “to encourage companies and financial institutions of both countries to actively cooperate in the construction of infrastructure facilities,” according to the Ukrainian news outlet Ukrinform. The two countries will also promote closer economic ties and assist each other in joint projects. China is now Ukraine’s largest trading partner, and the new deal will only strengthen that position. 

The infrastructure deal marks a fresh start in the relationship between the two countries after turmoil earlier this year. In Winter, Ukraine decided to side with the U.S. over the Ukrainian motor engine company Motor Sich, which the Chinese had bought. Among other things, the company produces engines for military helicopters and planes, and the U.S. did not like the idea of China getting access to new technology. 

Andrej Buzarov, an expert at the Thinktank KyivStratPro, told Ukrainenu that Ukraine’s decision to side with the U.S. could result in a deteriorating relationship with China. 

“I think this will logically freeze relations between Ukraine and China. It may have an impact on China’s investment in Ukraine, but we do not know yet,” said Buzarov.