Macron urges Xi to bring Russia ‘back to reason’ over Ukraine

French president makes plea as two leaders hold first of series of high-level meetings in Beijing

The French president has urged China’s Xi Jinping to bring Russia “back to reason” over the war in Ukraine, as the two held the first of a series of high-level meetings in Beijing.

“The Russian aggression in Ukraine has dealt a blow to [international] stability,” Emmanuel Macron told Xi, standing alongside the Chinese leader outside the Great Hall of the People before their meeting. “I know I can count on you to bring back Russia to reason and everyone back to the negotiating table.”

However, hours later in Moscow, a government spokesperson said he saw no prospect for China to mediate in the Ukraine conflict and that Russia had “no other way” than to press on with its offensive.

“Undoubtedly, China has a very effective and commanding potential for mediation,” the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said. “But the situation with Ukraine is complex. So far there are no prospects for a political settlement.”

In Beijing, Xi said he wanted to avoid an escalation, adding that Europe was an “independent pole in a multipolar world” and that China supported Europe’s strategic autonomy.

The comments came after a meeting on Thursday between Xi and Macron, in a visit aimed at boosting both leaders’ credentials as statesmen who could talk across a political divide. Xi said the countries were working on a trade agreement called “from French farm to Chinese table”.

Macron said Paris and Beijing had a strategic partnership that would help to deliver global stability.

China has been keen to carve out ties with Europe that are independent of Beijing’s souring relationship with the US. The visit to Beijing by Macron and Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, comes against a backdrop of the Ukraine war and a global economic crunch.

Von der Leyen said China had “a responsibility to use its influence in a friendship with Russia built on decades”. She added that she had expressed the EU’s concern about plans to station Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus.

Macron was under pressure from the US to use the visit to dissuade China from forging closer ties with Russia. After the meeting between Macron and Xi, the French president said his Chinese counterpart had “important words” on Ukraine. He said France and China agreed nuclear weapons should be excluded from the conflict.

Von der Leyen said she had encouraged Xi to speak to Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukraine’s president. Xi was expected to call Zelenskiy after he travelled to Russia to meet Vladimir Putin but the conversation never materialised. Some analysts have predicted Xi’s call to Ukraine’s president could come soon after the European delegation leaves China, as a show of cooperation.

Earlier, Macron met the Chinese premier, Li Qiang. An Élysée official confirmed they had spoken about the conflict in Ukraine as well as French businesses’ access to the Chinese market – particularly in the aeronautical sector, food industry and finance.

Macron also raised the issue of the Summit for a New Global Financial Pact, which France is hosting in June, saying China should play a key role on the challenges of financing the fight against poverty and climate crisis.

A report on EU-China relations published by Fudan University in February noted that Europe’s stance on China was marked by “hostility in ideology, vigilance in security, and competition in economics”.

But as China emerges from three years of self-imposed isolation as a result of Xi’s zero-Covid policy, it is keen to boost trade ties with Europe. Macron seems receptive to that message: he travelled to China accompanied by about 50 business executives, including the chief executives of Airbus and EDF.

This has led to some criticism that Macron is prioritising business over security. He rejected this, telling Reuters on Wednesday: “Strategic autonomy doesn’t mean autarky.”


Amy Hawkins, Angelique Chrisafis and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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