‘China’s delegation’ Russia touts a visit to Crimea by ‘Chinese representatives,’ calling it Beijing’s response to events in Ukraine, but the delegates were actually businessmen from Moscow
“Delegates from China came to gauge the peninsula’s tourism potential,” Crimea’s Tourism Ministry reported on its website on March 11, 2021, promoting a visit by a supposed Chinese delegation that Russian news outlets have described as both “official” and “representative.” The pro-Kremlin media has touted the trip as a sign of the new prospects for Crimea-Chinese economic cooperation, but almost no one in Beijing has even heard about the visit. That’s probably because the three delegation members were actually businessmen from wholesale markets in Moscow, not China.
“We were visited by an official delegation from the People’s Republic of China. This was the first visit by a foreign delegation since our country and the whole world started gradually lifting the conditions imposed under the realities of COVID,” Vladislav Ganzhara, the director of the Crimean State Foundation for Supporting Entrepreneurship, told Sputnik Radio. Ganzhara met directly with the delegates.
According to the Crimean Tourism Ministry’s press release, the Chinese representatives visited several wineries and resorts and also joined a roundtable discussion with several senior government officials, including Crimea’s Council of Ministers Deputy Chairperson and Finance Minister Irina Kiviko and Resorts and Tourism Deputy Minister Yulia Martynenko. The peninsula’s “Chinese guests” were particularly taken with Crimea’s production of chicken feet, which are considered a delicacy in China, Southern Regional Export Support Center acting director Ksenia Slutskaya told Vesti-Krym.
The visit took place in early March, but Russian national news networks didn’t report it until March 15 in connection with allegations made by Vadim Rabinovich, a Ukrainian lawmaker from the pro-Russian political party “Opposition Platform — For Life,” who wrote on Facebook on March 14 that the Chinese visit to Crimea could be a “countermove” by Beijing in response to Kyiv seizing the aerospace company “Motor Sich,” one of the world’s largest producers of engines for helicopters and planes. (The Chinese aviation firm “Skyrizon” had sought a controlling stake in the business, prompting U.S. and then Ukrainian sanctions on the grounds of “predatory investments” and “an unacceptable risk of diversion to military end-use.”)
On March 15, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti asked Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian to comment on Rabinovich’s remarks, but the diplomat said merely that China’s position on Crimea remains unchanged and urged against “politicizing the business activities of Chinese companies.” Nevertheless, the state-run news network Rossiya-24 continued to link the situation surrounding Motor Sich to Crimea’s “Chinese delegation,” describing three of the visitors as members of China’s “Export-Import Commission.”
But Chinese sources — from Xinhua and The People’s Daily (the newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee) to official social media accounts run by China’s state agencies — have reported no information whatsoever about a delegation traveling to Crimea.
“The delegation from the PRC included Russian-Chinese Friendship Association deputy director Chen Shanwen, ‘Kaisheng’ Beijing Export-Import Trading Company CEO Zhao Kai, and ‘Haolang’ board of directors chairperson Chen Yong,” says Crimea’s Tourism Ministry.
Meduza has learned that Chen Shanwen and Chen Yong both own 33 percent of the “Haolang” company, which is registered in the Chinese city of Rui'an, located in China’s Zhejiang province. Records identify the entity as a small business engaged in the production of leather, fur, and feather goods. It also sells footwear.
The only information Meduza could find about the “Russian-Chinese Friendship Association” appears in recent news reports about the Chinese delegation’s visit to Crimea. These reports likely refer to the “Association for the Promotion of Peaceful Reuification of China in Russia” — an organization that fosters “patriotic work” among Russia’s Chinese community and supports ties between the Chinese business diaspora in Russia and the Chinese embassy. The group’s website identifies Chen Shanwen as a representative for Russia’s Zhejiang ex-pat community, but the association did not respond to Meduza’s questions about whether Chen Shanwen was authorized to visit Crimea as its official envoy.
China’s corporate registry also contains no record of the “Beijing Export-Import Trading Company” mentioned in the Crimean Tourism Ministry’s press release.
In fact, all three “Chinese delegates” are longtime residents of Moscow, where they’re also established businessmen, a representative for the city’s Chinese diaspora told Meduza. Members of Moscow’s Chinese business diaspora say they recognize their colleagues in footage from the delegation’s visit to Crimea. Sources told Meduza that Chen Shanwen, Zhao Kai, and Chen Yong are closely linked, selling consumer goods at wholesale and retail markets in Moscow, like the “Moskva” and “Sadovod” trading centers.
Sources who spoke to Meduza say they were completely unaware of the delegation’s visit to Crimea until approached by Meduza’s correspondent, noting that they saw nothing about the trip on the Chinese social network WeChat, where they get their news.
Crimea’s Tourism and Resorts Ministry, which published the press release about senior government officials joining a roundtable with the Chinese businessmen, invited Meduza to seek clarification from the meeting’s apparent organizer, the Southern Regional Export Support Center. That group did not respond immediately to Meduza’s requests for comment.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock