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China noncommittal on aid for Ukraine during president's visit

Source: Reuters - Wed, 4 Dec 2013 10:03 AM
Author: Reuters
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BEIJING, Dec 4 (Reuters) - China's Foreign Ministry made a noncommittal response on Wednesday to a query whether Beijing would provide any more aid to Ukraine, as President Viktor Yanukovich arrived in the country from his crisis-torn homeland.

Beijing has already provided Ukraine $10 billion in loans, but Kiev must drum up $17 billion more next year for gas bills and debt repayments.

Including the private sector, Ukraine owes more than $60 billion in debt payments in 2014 - more than a third of its GDP.

A Ukrainian government delegation visited China in September, when the Export-Import Bank provisionally offered a $3-billion loan to help restore Ukraine's irrigation system.

Asked if China is willing to give Ukraine any more aid, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei would not respond directly.

"In recent years, China and Ukraine have developed a comprehensive cooperation in all spheres. This cooperation is in the interests of advancing Ukraine's economic and social development, which also has important significance to China," Hong told a daily news briefing.

"So during this visit, leaders from both sides will exchange comprehensive views on subjects of mutual interests," he added, without elaborating.

Yanukovich sparked mass protests in Kiev after he decided not to sign a trade pact with the European Union.

He has drawn heavy criticism for continuing with the trip even as hundreds of thousands of pro-Europe protesters flood the streets of Kiev, blockading government buildings and seeking to force him from office.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua said Yanukovich had arrived in Xian on the first leg of his trip, where he would visit the Terracotta Warriors archaeological site and an aircraft factory before heading to Beijing.

Hong said China was concerned about the protests, but did not link the turmoil in Kiev to China's willingness to provide financial aid.

"We are paying close attention to Ukraine's domestic situation," Hong said. "We hope and believe that all parties in Ukraine can resolve these differences through discussion and consultation and safeguard the country's stability and unity."

Yanukovich's decision to go abroad could stymie his ability to hold talks with the opposition, experts have told Reuters.

The former Soviet republic is grappling with a looming debt crisis, and seeks trade partners beyond Russia and the European Union. (Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Clarence Fernandez)

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