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French President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony. Alamy Stock Photo
War in Ukraine

'I can count on you to bring Russia to its senses', Macron tells Xi Jinping in China

Western pressure is mounting on China to take a more active role in the peace process in Ukraine.

FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL Macron has said he is counting on his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to “bring Russia to its senses” over its war in Ukraine.

The French president, who arrived yesterday for a three-day state visit, has made clear he is seeking to dissuade China from supporting Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.

“I know I can count on you to bring Russia to its senses and everyone to the negotiating table,” Macron told Xi during a bilateral meeting in Beijing.

During the talks, Xi expressed intention to speak with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy when the time comes, according to a French diplomat.

Xi recently went to Moscow to reaffirm his alliance with Vladimir Putin – framed as an anti-Western front – but has not yet spoken on the phone with Zelenskyy.

The French head of state, meanwhile, “pressed Xi Jinping not to deliver anything to Russia that would be used for its war against Ukraine”, added the diplomat, following Western claims that Beijing could be mulling arms shipments to support Russia’s war.

In a joint statement following the talks, the two leaders reaffirmed their call for peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow “as soon as possible”.

The two sides also reaffirmed their opposition to the use of nuclear weapons during the conflict.

To coincide with their meeting, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV released a report in which Xi hailed China’s “positive and steady” ties with France as the world undergoes “profound historical changes”.

‘Major role’

Macron has said during his trip that Beijing can play a “major role” in finding a path to peace in the conflict and welcomed China’s “willingness to commit to a resolution”.

Moscow poured cold water on prospects for a Chinese mediation of the conflict, insisting on Thursday it had “no choice” but to press on with its offensive.

“Undoubtedly, China has a very effective and commanding potential for mediation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“But the situation with Ukraine is complex, so far there are no prospects for a political settlement,” he said.

But Macron’s visit to China, his first since 2019, comes as Western pressure mounts on Beijing to help push for peace in Ukraine.

Beijing is officially neutral, but Xi has never condemned the Russian invasion.

china-france France’s President Emmanuel Macron, left, is welcomed by Chinese Premier Li Qiang. Thibault Camus / PA Images Thibault Camus / PA Images / PA Images

Macron, who is accompanied on his visit by European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, said he wants to “be a voice that unites Europe” over Ukraine, and that coming to China with her serves to “underline the consistency of this approach”.

Von der Leyen said in meeting today with Chinese Premier Li Qiang that relations between the EU and China had grown “complex in recent years”.

“It is important that we discuss all aspects of this relationship together today,” she said, especially in the current “volatile geopolitical environment”.

She also said she warned China that supplying arms to Russia would “significantly harm” relations, following Western claims that Beijing was mulling material support for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

“We also count on China not to provide any military equipment directly or indirectly to Russia, because we all know arming the aggressor would be against international law, and it would significantly harm our relationship,” von der Leyen told a press conference in Beijing following the meetings.

Macron’s talks with Xi were followed by a trilateral meeting with von der Leyen, after which the French and Chinese leaders will hold a state dinner.

Macron will travel to Guangzhou in southern China to meet students tomorrow, taking with him a broad delegation of top politicians, business leaders and even celebrities, including composer Jean-Michel Jarre.

Taiwan tensions

The visit comes in the face of mounting Chinese pressure on Taiwan, with the island’s President Tsai Ing-wen meeting US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California on Wednesday.

Tsai hailed the talks, saying they showed the self-ruled island was “not isolated” on the international stage.

Beijing baulks at any official contact between Taipei and the rest of the world, insisting there is only “one China”.

Macron told journalists yesterday he did not think his Chinese counterparts had “a desire to overreact” to the Tsai-McCarthy meeting.

China had repeatedly warned both sides that the meeting should not take place and deployed an aircraft carrier near Taiwan hours before the talks went ahead.

Three additional warships were detected in waters separating the island from China, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence said today.

chinese-president-xi-jinping-and-french-president-emmanuel-macron-attend-a-meeting-at-the-great-hall-of-the-people-in-beijing-thursday-april-6-2023-gonzalo-fuentespool-photo-via-ap Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron attend a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

‘Strongly interconnected’

Macron’s trip has an important economic component as well, with the French leader keen to firm up a crucial trade partnership.

Macron is accompanied by more than 50 French business leaders, including top bosses of Airbus, EDF and Veolia.

Airbus announced Thursday that it would open a second final assembly line in China that will double its production capacity in the country, with the framework for the deal signed by CEO Guillaume Faury in Beijing.

Asia has become a key market for both Airbus and its US rival Boeing as demand for air travel climbs with an expanding middle class.

“It makes a lot of sense for us, as the Chinese market keeps growing, to be serving local for the Chinese airlines, and probably some other customers in the region,” Faury said.

Von der Leyen has also pledged to raise the EU’s yawning trade deficit with China during her meetings this week.

“Our economies are strongly interconnected but the EU trade deficit is increasing due to discriminatory practices,” she said on Twitter.

© AFP 2023

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