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Macron counting on China to 'bring Russia to its senses'

Published April 6, 2023last updated April 6, 2023

During a trip to Beijing, the French president and the EU's von der Leyen are seeking to get Xi Jinping to pressure his ally Russia for peace in Ukraine. China has so far steered clear of condemning Moscow's invasion.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and France's President Emmanuel Macron review troops during a welcome ceremony in Beijing
Macron wants to be 'a voice that unites Europe' on his China visitImage: Thibault Camus/AP Photo/picture alliance

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday had peace in Ukraine high on the agenda during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

"I know I can count on you to bring Russia to its senses and everyone to the negotiating table," the French head of state told Xi during a three-day state visit to Beijing.

Both leaders called on for Russia-Ukraine peace talks to take place "as soon as possible."

The pair, who held talks in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, also agreed that nuclear weapons should be excluded from the conflict.

The talks were "frank and constructive," the Elysee Palace said, while Beijing said the discussions were "friendly" and "in-depth."

Von der Leyen welcomes Xi willingness to speak to Zelenskyy

The French president met Xi separately before a three-way talk with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

She warned Xi that arms shipments to Russia would "significantly harm" relations with the EU.

"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 said at a press conference following meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang. 

China's President Xi Jinping, center, his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, left, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen meet in Beijing
Xi held bilateral meetings with Macron and von der Leyen, but they also held trilateral talks Image: Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP/picture alliance

While China has called for a peaceful resolution to the war, it has steered clear of condemning Russia's invasion of its neighbor.

Last month, Xi visited Moscow and held lengthy talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in which the two leaders celebrated their "close ties."

Xi has not spoken on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy since the war started — although the latter has invited him to Kyiv and sought closer ties.

"It was interesting to hear that President Xi reiterated his willingness to speak when conditions and time are right. I think this is a positive element," von der Leyen said. 

Strengthening EU-China ties

The visit comes as Europe and China strive to overcome growing differences in recent years, ranging from technological competition to the situation in Taiwan and China's growing closeness to Russia despite the war in Ukraine.

Ahead of the visit, Macron said he wants to "be a voice that unites Europe" over Ukraine.

China, meanwhile, hopes the visit will help avert the kind of deterioration in relations that has been seen between it and the United States. Beijing sees Washington as leading efforts to contain its economic rise, with an exchange of accusations on both sides in recent months.

However, Europe's strong economic ties to China mean it has been forced to perform a balancing act with Beijing. 

During a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang, Macron stressed the importance of dialogue between China and France "in these troubled times."

France, China business deals and new investments announced

Although talks with Xi topped Macron and von der Leyen's agenda, there were also moves to inject new momentum into EU-China relations.

Macron's delegation includes more than 50 French business leaders.

Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury said the company would open a second final assembly line in China that will double its production capacity in the country. It also signed a deal to provide China Aviation Systems for 160 new aircraft.

French state utility EDF and Chinese utility CGN, had signed a deal to renew their long-standing partnership. Deals were also signed between EDF and China Energy Investment Corporation for offshore wind energy.

lo,rmt/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)