China demands Western embassies remove Ukraine and Pride flags as ‘political propaganda’

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Foreign embassies in Beijing have been asked to remove what the Chinese Communist Party termed “political propaganda” flags from its front walls in an apparent response to shows of support to Ukraine. The Chinese Foreign Ministry made the request of diplomatic missions last week, according to a European Union spokesperson and an anonymous diplomat from a European government. The request didn’t mention Ukraine but flags and placards set up by embassies of Canada, France, Germany and other governments are the only public displays by most foreign missions, other than tourism advertisements.

The May 8 request cites a need to “avoid causing disputes between countries,” but doesn’t define propaganda or give other details, EU spokesperson Nabila Massrali wrote in a statement.

A European diplomat, who asked not to be identified further due to the sensitivity of the issue, said his government doesn’t “see any reason to change” its display.

A two-metre-tall placard at the front gate of the Finnish Embassy has the flags of Finland and Ukraine. By the flags, it says: “#WeStandWithUkraine”.

A billboard hung on Sweden’s Embassy has the same phrase and flags of the two countries.

A delivery rider moves past a billboard showing a support for Ukraine sign at the Slovakia Embassy in Beijing© AP
The Canadian embassy Beijing displays a sign to show solidarity with Ukraine© AP

It wasn’t clear why China made the removal request now as the displays have been up for months.

Some embassies also raised rainbow flags for Diversity Week and Wednesday’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Such issues are considered politically sensitive by China’s ruling Communist Party.

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang said: “China calls on embassies of all countries in China and representative offices of international organisations in China to perform their duties in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations or relevant international agreements.”

Asked why they had issued this call, Wang said embassies were obliged to “respect Chinese laws and regulations”.

The flags of France, Ukraine, and the European Union fly at the French Embassy in Beijing© AP

Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s government says it is neutral in Moscow’s 15-month-old invasion of Ukraine but has repeated Russian justifications, accusing Washington and the US-European military alliance NATO of provoking Moscow.

A Chinese envoy visited Ukraine this week and was due to go to Russia to discuss a possible “political settlement,” but little progress is expected.

The Chinese envoy, Li Hui, met over two days with Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, according to the two governments.

The Ukrainian government said they discussed “ways to stop Russian aggression,” but neither side gave details.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, centre left, and Li Hui, Chinese envoy, hold talks in Kyiv© AP

Li said the two governments should “create conditions for ending the war and peace talks,” according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.

Political analysts see little chance of progress toward peace because neither side appears to be ready to stop fighting.

But they say Xi’s government might be trying to deflect criticism of its friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and split European allies away from Washington.

Beijing released a proposed peace plan in February but Ukraine’s allies largely dismissed it, insisting Putin’s forces must withdraw and face prosecution for war crimes.

[Top image: A Chinese policemen stands guard outside the Swedish embassy during Diversity Week in Beijing© AP]

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