Residents of the Crimea and Sevastopol have celebrated the 7th anniversary of reunification with their historical homeland. The day before, a delegation of Chinese businessmen and officials paid a visit to the peninsula. Among them were Director of the Beijing export-import Kai Sheng trading company Zhao Kai, HaoLan JSC Board Chairman Chen Yong, and Deputy Chairman of the Russia-China Friendship Association Chen Shanwen.
It is well known that all the international contacts of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol arouse heightened interest and are carefully considered in the context of sanctions imposed on the peninsula by a number of countries. Nevertheless, the foreign partners' interest is growing. This is borne out by the constantly increasing number of participants in the annual Yalta International Economic Forum, which is one of Russia's four largest, as well as by the performance of special economic zones created in the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol in 2015.
However, some countries and large companies are understandably cautious and create mainland branches to work through, or resort to facilitators. This method of overcoming sanctions barriers is naturally kept under wraps. Turkey, for instance, which recognizes the Crimea as either Ukrainian or Turkish as circumstances require, actively trades with the peninsula, thereby de facto agreeing with its Russian affiliation.
China has also remained neutral on the Crimea. Once-in-a-blue-moon visits of Chinese businessmen have been private fact-finding missions. The latest visit, which was undoubtedly held with Beijing authorities' blessing and got wide coverage in both Russian and Chinese central and local media, is another pair of shoes.
Members of the Chinese delegation noted the significant positive changes that have taken place on the peninsula over the past years. During the visit, they were received at the highest local level and had a number of meetings with heads of Crimean enterprises and companies. The guests were particularly interested in prospects of purchasing Crimean wines, agricultural products, confectionery, and chicken by-products.
The negotiations particularly focused on tourism cooperation. The Chinese side expressed readiness for large-scale investments in the region's resort business. In China, medical tourism is in great demand. Crimea, with its unique climate and recreational potential, has great opportunities for health resort treatment. The Crimean health resorts' expertise in treating musculoskeletal (Saki lake muds) and respiratory disorders is especially relevant to residents of the Tianxia.
Meeting with representatives of the Crimean tourism industry, Chinese delegation members noted the popularity of ecotourism and historical routes in China, which makes Crimea a rather attractive and nearly all-season place for travel. According to the Chinese side, the near future will see the tourist flow from China to the Crimea reach an annual 300,000 people.
In about two weeks, Chinese experts intend to visit the Crimea in an expanded format to keep promoting contacts. In turn, representatives of the republic's leadership got an invitation to pay a return visit to China.
However, the neighboring Ukraine broke out into emotional criticism, as the Chinese delegation's visit to the Crimea was deemed as Beijing's response to President Zelensky's decision of nationalizing the Motor Sich aircraft engine plant owned by the Chinese shareholders.
The history of the Motor Sich plant (estd. 1907) being Ukrainian industry's "diamond", is classic for post-Maidan Ukraine. The plant, which specialized in the development, production, repair and maintenance of aviation gas turbine engines for airplanes, helicopters, cruise missiles, as well as industrial gas turbine installations, sent 80% of its products to Russia along the links functioning since Soviet times.
Two years after the "Revolution of Dignity" and a breach in relations with Russia, the plant found itself on the brink of bankruptcy but managed to find a strategic investor as represented by a pool of Chinese companies whose key investments helped them de facto concentrate 75% of the enterprise's shares in their hands.
The situation at hand did not suit the United States, which, willing to prevent the transfer of military technology to China, forced the Ukrainian authorities to tear up the deal. President Zelensky signed a decree to impose sanctions against four Chinese companies, and also decided to make "the people" retrieve the strategic asset. The Chinese side hired reputable law firms and filed a $3.6 billion suit with the International Court of Justice.
Perhaps without fully realizing it, Zelensky has offended Chinese President Xi Jinping in no small way. The place China occupies in the global hierarchy, and its specific understanding of ethic standards and canons are dead set against such a behavior of the "juniors" towards the "seniors". Recall that a short while ago, the Chinese leader was the only one among the heads of major nations to congratulate the Ukrainian president on his birthday, which surprised many observers. Moreover, Ukraine cited China's desire to "steal" valuable technologies as one of the reasons for breaking the deal with Motor Sich.
I would venture to suggest that China's defrost of relations with the Crimea marks the beginning of troubles awaiting Ukraine. President Zelensky has apparently forgotten that China is Ukraine's largest trading partner, as well as his dreams of the nation's core role as a transit country in the global Belt and Road initiative. Now the plans for investing in the Ukrainian economy will have to be reconsidered, and this does not concern the Chinese injections alone.
Was Washington's outcry so strong that Zelensky chose to immolate relations with Beijing to the White House's dissatisfaction? It remains to be seen whether the choice is reasonable. In the meantime, Crimea can only thank the Ukrainian president for paving the way to cooperation with the world's major economy.