So, Who Is Our Partner №1

Folk wisdom witnesses that when trying to sit on two chairs at the same time, no one has yet managed to sit on at least one. Obviously, our political leaders are convinced that they will nevertheless succeed in doing it.

In a recent “talk show”, the foreign minister of Ukraine described the partnership model of Ukraine as "simple": the United States is a political partner and China as an economic partner for Ukraine. If we ignore the fact that in the globalisation era it is almost impossible to separate political and economic interests, then such a position could be welcomed.

However, instead of congratulations, (at least) one more disappointment arises.

Of course, in the post-coronavirus period, the United States and China, as the countries with the largest economies, will have a decisive influence on global and national processes. Conflict of values ​​and interests of the United States and China, as well as increased competition between them in various (political, security, economic) domains, will "involve" in possible confrontations almost all countries, often requiring them to choose complex alternatives to pursue their own interests and to receive benefits (or to reduce losses). In the context of weak institutions (which is typical of Eastern countries, including Ukraine) and ignoring the fact that the promotion of strategic political interests is achieved through trade and economic expansion, these confrontations will be critical.

Thus, the political dimension of economic decisions and economic partners can be decisive, particularly for Ukraine. It is crucial to remember that in international forums, which address issues important to Ukraine, the United States and European partners show consistent support for Ukraine. China, on the other hand, often takes a far from pro-Ukrainian position, primarily on issues of countering Russian aggression or various humanitarian aspects. China is often characterised by a "neutral-excluded" position when voting on various issues initiated by Russia regarding Ukraine. This de facto supports the Russian vision. Can this be really ignored?

With the intensification of geopolitical confrontations between the United States and China, including the introduction of mutual sanctions, restrictions, and prohibitions, Ukraine will have to clearly identify its main partner. Of course, there should be no doubt here — the viability of Ukraine today definitely depends on the United States.

In this case, Ukraine faces the risk of losing economic benefits from weakening economic contacts with China. How critical will such losses be? After the beginning of the Russian aggression in 2014, the experience of the economic reorientation of Ukraine from Russia to EU markets today is of strategic importance, as it addresses the new challenges posed by the likely accelerated redistribution of global influence. In the days (2012–2013), when the fate of the integration policy of Ukraine was being decided — either it should have been oriented to the EU or to the CIS, numerous "arguments" were presented, which were intended to lead to the conclusion that the weakening (at that time there could possibly be no talk of the total termination) of ties with the CIS, in general, and Russia, in particular, would inevitably lead to the collapse of the Ukrainian economy.

However, in reality, the situation turned out to be the opposite, and there are numerous reasons to affirm that the severance of dependence, the abruption of Ukraine from the Russian "gas needle" contributed to the establishment of more open and clear rules of the game in the country, as well as to the improvement of conditions for domestic businesses to enter European markets. The formation of a free trade zone between Ukraine and the EU was not a factor in suppressing Ukrainian production. On the contrary, the focus on European markets has helped Ukraine to stabilise the external sector and contributed to the accelerated transformation of export capacity. Indeed, already in 2019 exports to the EU-28 countries amounted to $20.8 billion, exceeding the corresponding figure for 2013 by 24% (which was the last year before the aggression, when the FTA did not exist). And moreover, this figure takes into account the losses caused by Russian aggression (total losses of Ukraine resulting from the seizure of part of its territory by Russia amounted to about 40% of its export potential at that time).

Today, there is evidence to affirm that the potential losses from the weakening of economic contacts between Ukraine and China will not be critical for the domestic economy. Indeed, in 2020 whilst total exports of Ukrainian goods amounted to $49 billion, exports to China amounted to $7 billion, which corresponds to only 14% of the total exports. With reference to 2013 (last year before the aggression), when total exports amounted to $63 billion, exports to Russia was $15 billion (or 24% of total exports). Meanwhile, the sharp decline in the mutual trade between Ukraine and Russia in the following years, as previously stated, turned out to be even "sanative" for the Ukrainian economic environment.

Moreover, today the scale of potential losses (from the weakening of trade between Ukraine and China) may not be even noticeable. The fact is that Ukrainian exports to China are mainly agricultural and food products. Demand for such products in the next decade will be stable and even growing. Therefore, the reorientation to new markets (in particular, to the highly dynamic countries of Southeast Asia) may bring new long-term benefits.

herefore, economic interests cannot be an alternative to political orientation. One of the favorite wishes of Chinese representatives is the separation of political values ​​from business interests. It seems that Ukraine, at a high diplomatic level, should not fall, however, into the confusion of political and economic values ​​and priorities.

Vasyl Yurchyshyn

Director, Economic Programmes

Born in 1955 in Kamyanets-Podilskyi.


T. Shevchenko Kyiv State University, Department of Cybernetics (1977).

Institute of Public Administration and Local Government at the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine (1994).

Professor in Public Administration. Author of nearly 100 scientific works.


In 1977–1993, worked at the Kyiv University as an engineer, research fellow and senior research fellow;

1994–1999 — head economic researcher at the International Centre for Policy Studies, Fund for Banking and Finance Development;

1999–2004 — Assistant Professor, Department of Economic Policy of the Ukrainian (currently, National) Academy of Public Administration, office of the President of Ukraine;

1999–2004 — Research Director at the Agency of Humanitarian Technologies, later — Agency for Social Analysis;

2002–2003 — advisor to the Minister of Economy of Ukraine;

since April, 2004 — Professor, Department of Economic Policy of the National Academy of Public Administration, office of the President of Ukraine;

since June, 2005 — Economic Programmes Director at Razumkov Centre.

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