French President Emmanuel Macron said he was trying to convince Xi Jinping to accept “shared responsibility for peace” in Ukraine, the latest attempt by a European leader to distance China’s president from Moscow’s support.
Speaking on a three-day state visit to Beijing on Wednesday, Macron said it would be a mistake not to talk to China about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, given the influence Xi could wield over Vladimir Putin.
“Do we agree on everything [China’s plan]? No. But it shows a willingness to play a responsible role and try to build a path to peace,” he said, referring to China’s 12-point position statement on the Ukraine war released in late February.
“We, the Europeans, should allow Russia to be the only European country that talks to China,” he added.
Macron, who will be joined by European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen on the trip, will walk a delicate line with Xi when he meets her on Thursday. In addition to news about Russia, the French president is seeking to restart broader Franco-Chinese relations, from trade to culture, as the Covid-19 pandemic subsides.
European leaders are unlikely to convince the Chinese leader to abandon personal support for Putin or China’s economic support for Russia, analysts said.
Dexter Roberts, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, said the future is likely to see real change in how Xi views Putin and how the Chinese Communist Party leadership views Russia.
“Xi Jinping and other top leaders are really sympathetic to Russia. They believe that Putin has put his back against the wall with NATO expansion,” Roberts said. “They see a lot of parallels . . . with the US presence in the Indo-Pacific.”
An Elysée official acknowledged that France saw value in building a base with China that could be fruitful later if the talks did not lead to immediate progress, but if Ukraine and Russia were willing to hold peace talks.
Macron spoke with US President Joe Biden before leaving for China. The White House said the leaders “reiterated their firm support for Ukraine,” while Elysee said they “discussed a shared desire to engage China in helping to speed up the end of the war and build lasting peace in the region.”
In an interview with the Financial Times this week, van der Leyen said China was in a position to influence Russia over Ukraine. [it has] a responsibility” to do so. He previously warned Beijing that its stance on the war would be a “deciding factor” for the future of EU-China relations.
Xi traveled to Moscow last month, making clear his personal ties to the Russian president, whom he called a “dear friend”. China has also previously tried to position itself as a non-aligned broker in the Ukraine conflict by issuing a 12-point position statement.
But the document largely reiterated Beijing’s earlier talking points and was dismissed by Western officials as failing to allay concerns about Beijing’s “boundless partnership” with Moscow.
Leif-Erik Eisley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, said China’s leadership did not engage with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky despite Moscow’s flagrant overstepping of its neighbor’s borders. Integrity and the UN Charter”.
“It is unlikely that China will align with Western positions on Ukraine when European leaders visit Beijing,” Easley said. “Instead, Xi may double down on Putin’s support as he tries to appear a reasonable politician in dialogue with all parties.”
The trip followed a visit to Beijing late last year by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and European Council President Charles Michel that failed to achieve a substantive shift in China policy.
Instead, experts noted, Beijing sought to distance individual officials from broader anti-China sentiment and a strong push for economic disengagement.
“Chinese actors will try to drive a wedge between US allies, increase national technological autonomy, pressure vulnerable foreign firms and win more market share in developing countries,” Easley said.
In an olive branch to France, China plans to sign cooperation agreements in space, civil nuclear energy, agriculture and supply chains during Macron’s visit.
Chinese state media on Tuesday quoted the Chinese ambassador to Paris, Lu Xie, as acknowledging “setbacks and difficulties” in relations with France and Europe, for which he accused the United States of forcing it to “take sides.”
Despite tough attitudes in Europe, Lu said: “There is no fundamental interest or conflict between the two sides.”
Additional reporting by William Langley in Hong Kong