China asks embassies to avoid 'propaganda' in apparent reference to pro-Ukrainian displays

BEIJING (AP) — Foreign embassies in Beijing were asked by the Chinese government to avoid displaying what it calls 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, accusing Washington and the U.S.-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 Foreign Ministry asked diplomatic missions last week not to use their exterior walls to display “political propaganda,” according to a European Union spokesperson and a diplomat from a European government.

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.

Massrali said the EU Delegation in Beijing “has not changed any items displayed at its front wall.”

The request didn’t 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.

The 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 2-meter (6.5-foot) -tall placard at the front gate of the Finnish Embassy has the flags of Finland and Ukraine and says "#WeStandWithUkraine.” A billboard hung on Sweden’s Embassy has the same phrase and flags of the two countries.

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

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.

Asked for confirmation and details, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said embassies were obliged to “respect Chinese laws and regulations,” but gave no details.

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

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.

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.