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Foreign intelligence agency concerned over Russia-China citizens' rights abroad statement

The PRC embassy building in central Tallinn.
The PRC embassy building in central Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (Välisluureamet/VLA) has expressed concern over Russo-Chinese cooperation over a joint statement issued in March last year which addresses the rights of each of countries' citizens while abroad.

The agency referred to a joint statement of the heads of state made during the visit of Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Moscow last March, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which contains a point on ensuring security for the citizens, institutions and projects of the two countries abroad.

The Foreign Intelligence Service stressed that this was the first time the leaders of the two countries had touched on this topic in a joint statement of this kind, which points towards greater China-Russia cooperation in matters of protecting the interests and rights of citizens and institutions abroad going forward.

"Notably, the text describes the group needing protection as 'persons located abroad', which could be interpreted to include individuals of Russian ethnicity, regardless of their citizenship. In the Chinese version, the phrase "rights and interests" (Mandarin: Quanyi) is used, a term the Chinese media has employed to criticize other nations' treatment of ethnic minorities," the agency stated in the yearbook, published on Tuesday.

"This language could allow Russia to seek China's support for its policy of protecting "compatriots" abroad. While the statement does not mandate specific actions, it potentially heightens future security risks for countries like Estonia," the yearbook adds.

This point, mentioned for the first time in a joint statement at the highest level, suggests that China and Russia may begin to express support for each other in matters of protecting the interests and rights of their citizens and institutions abroad in the future, the Foreign Intelligence Service says.

In the joint statement by the Chinese and Russian heads of state in March 2023, they pledged to deepen cooperation to ensure the security of each other's citizens, institutions and projects abroad, a theme that inherently carries certain risks.

The 12-point document "China's Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis", commonly referred to as the Chinese peace plan, and China's efforts to direct Ukraine to negotiations align with Russian interests but primarily reflect China's ambition to redefine global security norms through its Global Security Initiative. This initiative is a strategic move by China aimed at weakening the solidarity among Western nations to diminish the United States' influence in the Asia-Pacific and reduce potential US interference in the event of any future efforts to unify Taiwan with the mainland.

The Foreign Intelligence Service released to the public its ninth annual yearbook, "International Security and Estonia 2024", in which it assessed external security threats affecting Estonia over the past 12 months.

The full yearbook is available in English here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

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