Estonian ambassador to China: No removal of Ukraine flag from embassy

Hannes Hanso
Hannes Hanso Source: Laura Raudnagel/ERR

Allegations that authorities in the People's Republic of China have called for the removal of the Ukrainian flag from display outside foreign missions in that country are unlikely to be followed by that actually happening, Estonia's ambassador to China says.

Many European and Western foreign missions, including Estonia's, officially fly the Ukrainian blue-yellow flag as a show of solidarity in the aftermath of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, now in its second year.

The PRC itself has so far by its statement not taken sides in the current war, rather more expressing the desire to end the humanitarian crisis via negotiation, to reduce strategic risks including those of a nuclear nature, and also to maintain grain exports – a major component of both Ukraine and Russia's economies.

Estonia's Ambassador to China Hannes Hanso was unable to comment on media reports that Beijing had required or requested the removal of Ukraine's flag from outside the embassy, adding that he is currently in Estonia.

Speaking to Vikkeraadio, Ambassador Hanso said: "It should still be uniform, though, shouldn't it, whereby if there's a call to remove something, this doesn't concern just one embassy, but all, surely including us."

"We will be taking up the matter with EU and NATO ambassadors, though also, just in case, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs must also be reminded that the Embassy of the Republic of Estonia constitutes the territory of the Republic of Estonia," the ambassador said.

The only scenario in which Estonia would remove the Ukrainian flag from the embassy would be a conclusion to the current war, with an outcome favorable to Ukraine in which its de jure borders also became de facto ones.

"The war needs to end, then we will take it down. And we know how this war can be ended: Russia must leave Ukraine and return to within its former borders, then we can start discussing this," he went on.

Russia annexed Crimea nine years ago and subsequently built a bridge across the narrow Kerch Strait which separates Ukrainian territory from Russian territory, while the invasion which started last year continued this occupation in effect – by addressing issues such as water supply in the Crimean peninsula – as well as expanding what had already been an insurgency war in the Donbas region of southeastern Ukraine.

The ambassador added that many other EU countries' representations in the PRC, and those of the EU itself, have Ukrainian flags flying from outside the building, while some make use of large screens to do the same.

Some non-EU, non-NATO countries' embassies also openly express support for Ukraine, for instance by lighting up their buildings at night in blue and yellow colors, he added.

"Such public support for Ukraine in the urban space of Beijing is completely present and common," the ambassador said.

A reception held at the Estonian Embassy in Beijing on February 24 this year – Independence Day in Estonia and also the first anniversary of the invasion's start, was also in many ways as much about that event as it was about Estonian independence, he added.

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Flag issue is a matter for us

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Kersti Meresma told ERR Thursday that no notification from authorities in Beijing had come in respect of a call to remove the Ukrainian flag.

"Chinese officials have not asked the Estonian embassy in Beijing to remove the Ukrainian flag," Meresma said.

Meresma added that its PRC counterpart asks that all diplomatic missions in Beijing respect local laws and regulations, as well as international agreements such as the Vienna Convention.

Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200) meanwhile told ERR that removing the Ukrainian flag is a decision that only Estonia can make, and any demand to do so "would be completely incomprehensible."

In this, the embassy's premises constituted in effect Estonian soil.

"I am sure that just as the rainbow-colored flag flew over the [Estonian] Chinese embassy yesterday, the Ukrainian flag will also fly there. It is up to us which flags will fly on our territory, and at our embassies around the world," he said.

The BNS agency, quoting French newswire AFP, reported this week that authorities in Beijing had ordered the removal of all political messages and symbols from public display at the embassies of several western countries, a demand which had reportedly been refused, usually by citing the Vienna Convention.

One diplomatic source had suggested that the demand related to the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which took place Wednesday, and the flying of the rainbow flag, rather than to Ukraine.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, not to be confused with a later Vienna Convention on treaties, states that ambassadors may not interfere in the internal affairs of the host nation, but does not explicitly prohibit displays of political content on embassy premises.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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