French President Emmanuel Macron urged China’s Xi Jinping on Thursday to reason with close ally Russia and help end the Ukraine war, while Xi responded by saying he hoped the two sides could hold peace negotiations as soon as possible.
In closely-watched talks in Beijing, which also involve EU chief Ursula von der Leyen, Macron said the West must engage Beijing to help end the crisis and prevent ‘spiralling’ tensions that could split global powers into warring blocs.
“The Russian aggression in Ukraine has dealt a blow to (international) stability,” Macron told Xi, standing alongside the Chinese president outside the Great Hall of the People at the start of their meeting.
“I know I can count on you to bring back Russia to reason and everyone back to the negotiating table.”
In comments after his meeting with Macron, Xi called for Ukraine and Russia to resume peace talks and find a political solution to the conflict.
France said the discussions between the leaders were “frank and constructive,” while China described them as “friendly” and “in-depth”.
Macron also asked Xi to press Russia to comply with international rules on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he will station tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine’s neighbour Belarus, a move seen as a dangerous escalation in the bloody year-long conflict.
Xi said all countries should respect commitments on not using nuclear weapons and “nuclear war shouldn’t be waged”, without mentioning Russia. He called on the international community to “refrain from any action that would lead to further deterioration of the crisis or even to it getting out of control”.
The EU leaders’ visit to China comes after years of souring relations with Beijing over issues including accusations of rights abuse in Xinjiang, a stalled investment pact and China’s reluctance to condemn Russia over its Ukraine invasion.
But addressing the press after his arrival on Wednesday, Macron said Europe must resist reducing trade and diplomatic ties with China and reject what some have cast as an “inescapable spiral” of tension between China and the West.
Von der Leyen, on her first trip to China since taking office as European Commission president in 2019, was also set to hold trilateral talks with Macron and Xi on Thursday evening.
Macron also met with Premier Li Qiang before meeting Xi for an elaborate ceremony outside the Great Hall, where the two leaders witnessed a 21-gun salute and strode side-by-side along a red carpet as a brass band played their national anthems.
In comments reported by state media CCTV, Xi said China and France have the ability and responsibility to transcend “differences” and “restraints” as the world undergoes profound historical changes. China was willing to work with the European Union (EU) to restart “exchanges” on all levels, Xi said.
Some analysts had suggested that Macron and von der Leyen may adopt a “good cop, bad cop” role in Beijing with the convivial Frenchman promoting a “reset” in ties and the EU chief laying out the thornier issues and red lines in those relations.
Macron placed both hands on Xi’s during a long handshake after they met outside the Great Hall on Thursday. He then gave the Chinese leader an amicable pat on the back as they walked to greet members of each government.
Von der Leyen, who also met Premier Li on Thursday, had just days before the visit said Europe must “de-risk” diplomatically and economically with a hardening China.
“Both Europe and China have benefited immensely from this relationship, however, EU-China relations have become more complex in the recent years and it is important that we discuss together all the aspects of our relations today,” von der Leyen said before her meeting with Li.
Li said the partnership with the EU and France stood at “a new starting point” and both parties should adhere to “mutual respect and win-win cooperation”.
For its part, China is eager to ensure Europe does not follow what it sees as U.S.-led efforts to contain its rise.
“It is worth noting that various forces in Europe and the U.S. are paying close attention to Macron’s visit and exerting influence in different directions,” state media outlet Global Times wrote in an editorial. “In other words, not everyone wants to see Macron’s visit to China go smoothly and successfully.”
Both Macron and von der Leyen have said they want to persuade China to leverage its ties with Russia to bring peace in Ukraine or, at least, deter Beijing from directly supporting Moscow’s invasion, which Russia calls a “special military operation”.
China earlier this year proposed a 12-point peace plan for the Ukraine crisis, which called on both sides to agree to a gradual de-escalation leading to a comprehensive ceasefire.
The plan was largely dismissed by the West due to China’s refusal to condemn Russia, and the U.S. and NATO then said China was considering sending arms to Russia, which Beijing has denied.
More than a year into a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives, there is little sign either side is keen to negotiate.
Airbus signed deals on Thursday to open a new assembly line in China, doubling its capacity in the world’s second-largest aviation market, and give the final green light to some previously announced jet orders.
While the French business community has welcomed Macron’s overtures to China, not everyone at home thinks that signing big money deals is good signal to send.
“At a time the debate in Europe focuses on our suicidal dependency on China and Chinese interference, the message is inopportune,” Raphael Glucksmann, a left-wing member of the European parliament, wrote on Twitter before Macron’s visit.