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China’s Xi calls for Ukraine peace talks to resume

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping called Thursday for peace talks over Ukraine after French President Emmanuel Macron appealed to him to “bring Russia to its senses,” but Xi gave no indication Beijing would use its leverage as Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic partner to press for a settlement.

Xi gave no sign China, which declared it had a “no limits friendship” with Moscow before last year’s attack, had changed its stance since calling for peace talks in February. But he added his personal authority by repeating the appeal at a joint event with Macron in front of reporters.

“Peace talks should resume as soon as possible,” Xi said.

Beijing, which sees Moscow as a partner in opposing U.S. domination of global affairs, has tried to appear neutral in the conflict but has given Putin diplomatic support and repeated Russian justifications for the February 2022 attack. Xi received an effusive welcome from Putin when he visited Moscow last month, giving the isolated Russian president a political boost.

The Chinese leader said “legitimate security concerns of all parties” should be considered, a reference to Moscow’s argument that its invasion of Ukraine was justified because of the eastward expansion of NATO, the U.S.-European military alliance.

Governments should “avoid taking actions that will further make the crisis deteriorate or even get out of control,” Xi said. He called for cooperation to reduce disruption of food and energy supplies, especially for developing countries.

During their talks earlier, Macron appealed to Xi to “bring Russia to its senses and bring everyone back to the negotiating table.”

Macron pointed to Chinese support for the United Nations Charter, which calls for respect of a country’s territorial integrity. He said Putin’s announcement that his government would deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus violated international agreements and commitments Moscow had made to Xi’s government.

“We need to find a lasting peace,” the French president said. “I believe that this is also an important issue for China, as much as it is for France and for Europe.”

China is the biggest buyer of Russian oil and gas, which helps prop up the Kremlin’s revenue in the face of Western sanctions. That increases Chinese influence, but Xi appears reluctant to jeopardize that partnership by pressuring Putin.

“China has always adhered to an objective and fair position on the issue of the Ukraine crisis,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning. “We have been an advocate of a political solution to the crisis and a promoter of peace talks.”

Earlier, Macron said during a meeting with the ruling Communist Party’s No. 2 leader, Premier Li Qiang, that France wants to “build a common path” in dealing with “all the major conflicts” in addition to Ukraine.

Li said there was likely to be a “broad consensus” between Macron and Xi but gave no indication whether Beijing might be willing to lobby Moscow to make peace.

The meeting will “send positive signals of concerted efforts by China, France and Europe to maintain world peace and stability,” Li said.

Macron was accompanied to Beijing by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a show of European unity.

Last week, von der Leyen warned that the European Union must be prepared to develop measures to protect trade and investment that China might exploit for security and military purposes.

Meanwhile, NATO’s 31 member countries warned Wednesday of “severe consequences” should China start sending weapons and ammunition to Russia.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said giving lethal aid would be a “historic mistake.” He warned there would be “severe consequences” but declined to give details.

Mao, the Chinese spokesperson, rejected NATO criticism.

“When it comes to responsibility in Ukraine, I think the United States and military blocs such as NATO should take responsibility,” Mao said. “NATO is in no position to accuse or pressure China.”

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