Foreign embassies in Beijing have been asked by the Chinese government to avoid displaying “propaganda” in an apparent response to shows of support for Ukraine.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s government says it is neutral in Moscow’s 15-month-old invasion of Ukraine but has repeated Russian justifications for the attack, accusing the US and Nato of provoking Moscow.
Beijing was due to send an envoy this week to Ukraine and Russia to discuss a possible “political settlement”, but the effort is thought unlikely to make progress given China’s rhetorical, diplomatic and economic support for Moscow.
A spokesperson for the European Union said the protocol department of the Chinese Foreign Ministry circulated a note on May 8 to all diplomatic missions to the effect that they should “respect Chinese laws and regulations” and “not to use the external walls of embassies to carry out politicised propaganda to avoid causing disputes between countries”.
Another European diplomat, who asked not to be identified further due to the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed Ms Massrali’s account, saying embassies had been asked by the foreign ministry not to use their outer walls for “political propaganda”.
He also said his government does not “see any reason to change” its display.
The verbal request did not mention Ukraine, according to the diplomats, 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.
A billboard hung on Sweden’s Embassy has the same phrase and flags of the two countries.
Some embassies also raised rainbow flags for diversity week and Wednesday’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Such issues are considered highly politically sensitive by China’s ruling Communist Party.
Asked for confirmation and details, a foreign ministry spokesperson said embassies were obliged to “respect Chinese laws and regulations”.
“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,” said the spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, without giving further details.
The Chinese government said earlier it was sending an envoy this week to Ukraine, Russia and other European countries to discuss a possible “political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis”.
Political analysts say there is little chance of progress toward peace because neither side appears to be ready to stop fighting.
But they say Mr Xi’s government might be trying to deflect criticism of its friendship with Russian president Vladimir Putin and split European allies away from Washington.