The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has said he intends to visit Beijing in the new year and believes his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, can play a mediating role that prevents a resumption of large-scale land fighting in Ukraine in February.
Speaking at the close of the G20 in Bali, a summit dominated by the Russian attack on Ukraine and its implications for the world economy, he said he believed China could take a mediating role in the conflict.
“I am convinced China can play, on our side, a more important mediating role in the coming months, to prevent in particular a stronger return of ground offensives in early February,” he said.
Macron’s remarks imply that he thinks Ukraine may have to be prepared to negotiate with Russia before it has regained all the territory it has lost since the initial Russian incursion of 2014. Few military experts believe Ukraine, despite recent successes, could take the highly defended Russian positions, including Crimea, before February with an expected winter slowdown in the fighting.
Macron also said the immediate task was to do everything to help Ukraine resist, and regardless of the source of the stray missile that landed in Poland on Tuesday, Russia had fired as many as 85 missiles into Ukraine that day in an attack on its energy infrastructure. He described it as “a terrible day for the Ukrainian people”, and possibly designed as a message to members of the G20.
A draft declaration issued from G20 leaders at the close of the summit said “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine” and demanded Russia’s “complete and unconditional withdrawal” from its neighbour’s territory. The reference to war is a rejection of Russia’s claim that it is involved in a “special military operation”.
But the draft also said, “There were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions,” reflecting the divisions among G20 states over Russia. China and India have both refrained from outright criticism of the Kremlin’s invasion.
Macron said: “The G20 has not looked away from the war in Ukraine. Even if Vladimir Putin did not come, the message sent to him was very clear, the vast majority condemns the war in Ukraine. That is a fact.”
He added that behind the scenes at the summit there had been a growing consensus. “There is space of convergence, including with the major economies China and India, to push Russia to de-escalate.
“We have brought together Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa, Argentina and Mexico to create convergences and have a clear message vis-a-vis Russia, a complete call for Russia to end this war.”
But he repeatedly said there was a consensus that the war must end in negotiations. He has previously said, and faced criticism for saying, that the war cannot end in humiliation for Russia, a remark he has not recently repeated as Russia’s methods have become ever more brutal.
Macron’s hopes of a shift in the Chinese position followed a meeting with Xi in Bali on Tuesday. At his press conference he said he was convinced that Xi was sincere, and upheld the UN charter’s support for the sovereignty of nations. The summit represented a formal end to Xi’s diplomatic isolation caused by Covid, and the west led by the US clearly is in a mood to reopen lines of communication.
Sceptics say that Putin and Xi committed themselves to a partnership without limits very soon before the invasion, and China has done little to distance itself from Russia subsequently. But Chinese sources told the FT they felt they were lied to by Putin, remarks that implied a weakening in the relationship.
G20 leaders left Bali relieved that the missile that landed in Poland, killing two people, was most likely a Ukrainian air defence missile, rather than a deliberate Russian provocation, but the episode underlined the vulnerability of the Eastern borders of Nato. “It is an instructive lesson in how fragile this state of affairs remains”, said one European diplomat.
Macron was at the forefront of western efforts at the summit to connect with the global south, saying he supported the African Union becoming a full permanent member of the G20. He also vowed to hold a new international conference on a financial pact with the south in Paris in June with the aim of creating a boost in finance to the south.
“We must not ask these countries to support multilateralism if the system is not able to respond to these vital emergencies. He also hailed the likely long term renewal of the grain and fertiliser deal allowing exports from Ukraine and Russia to be renewed by the end of the year.