- French President visits China with EU chief Von der Leyen
- EU-China relations have soured in recent years
- Macron hopes Xi can use Russian ties to seek peace in Ukraine
- China’s peace plan for Ukraine received with skepticism
- Trade ‘risks’ and trade deals are also on the summit’s agenda
BEIJING, April 6 (Reuters) – China’s Xi Jinping has expressed willingness to talk with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the EU chief said on Thursday, after French President Emmanuel Macron urged Beijing to talk with common sense to Russia about the war in Ukraine.
In closely watched talks, the head of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen, and Macron met Xi in Beijing. Macron said the West must engage China to help end the crisis and avoid “spiraling” tensions that could divide world powers into warring blocs.
Xi, who has tried to position China as a potential mediator in the conflict but is seen by the West as favoring Russia, responded by saying he hoped Moscow and Kiev could hold peace talks as soon as possible.
“It was interesting to hear that President Xi reiterated his willingness to talk” with Zelenskiy, von der Leyen said. Xi said a talk could take place when “the conditions and timing are right,” he added.
Xi did not mention a possible talk with Zelenskiy in his own comments after the meetings.
Zelenskiy has repeatedly asked Xi to meet him, even after the Chinese leader visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last month. A French diplomatic source told Reuters that Xi was “ready” to call Zelenskiy.
“Russian aggression in Ukraine has dealt a blow to (international) stability,” Macron told Xi, standing next to the Chinese president in front of the Great Hall of the People at the start of their 90-minute bilateral meeting.
“I know I can count on you to get Russia back on track and get everyone back to the negotiating table.”
Beijing’s reputation as a diplomatic player was bolstered in March when it brokered a deal for Iran and Saudi Arabia to resume relations after years of hostility that had fueled insecurity in the Gulf.
In a sign of the breadth of the world’s second-largest economy’s foreign policy, top Iranian and Saudi envoys met in Beijing on Thursday, on the sidelines of the Europe-China summit.
China has proposed a 12-point peace plan for the Ukraine crisis that calls on both sides to agree to a gradual de-escalation leading to a comprehensive ceasefire.
The plan has been largely rejected by the West due to China’s refusal to condemn Russia for invading its sovereign neighbor. The United States and NATO have said that China was considering sending weapons to Russia, which Beijing has denied.
The French diplomatic source said Macron had urged Xi not to provide Russia with weapons and Xi had replied that it was not his war. China is ready to work together with France to obtain a negotiated end to the fighting, the source said.
Yet more than a year into a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, there is little sign that Russia or Ukraine are willing to negotiate.
NO TO NUCLEAR WAR
France said the discussions between the leaders were “frank and constructive”, while China described them as “friendly” and “deep”.
Macron also called on Xi to pressure Russia to comply with international norms on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Putin has said that he will place tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine’s neighbor, Belarus.
Xi said that all countries should abide by commitments not to use nuclear weapons and that “nuclear war should not be waged,” without mentioning Russia. He called on the international community to “refrain from any action that would lead to a further deterioration of the crisis or even out of control.”
The EU leaders’ visit to China comes after years of sour relations with Beijing over issues including rights abuse allegations in Xinjiang, a stalled investment pact and China’s reluctance to condemn Russia for its invasion of China. Ukraine.
Human rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against the Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority numbering around 10 million in Xinjiang, including the massive use of forced labor in internment camps.
Von der Leyen called the situation in Xinjiang “particularly worrying”.
He also said that stability in the Taiwan Strait was of paramount importance. Xi responded by saying that expecting China to commit to Taiwan was an “illusion.”
But speaking to reporters after his arrival on Wednesday, Macron said Europe must resist reducing trade and diplomatic ties with China and reject what some have portrayed as an “inescapable spiral” of tension between China and the West.
Macron also met with Premier Li Qiang before meeting Xi for an elaborate ceremony in the Great Hall, where the two leaders witnessed a 21-gun salute and walked side by side down a red carpet.
Macron placed both hands on top of Xi’s during a lengthy handshake. He then gave the Chinese leader a friendly pat on the back as they walked to greet members of each government.
Von der Leyen, on her first trip to China since taking over as European Commission president in 2019, held trilateral talks with Macron and Xi on Thursday night.
Von der Leyen, who also met Premier Li, took a slightly firmer tone in comments after their meetings. Just days before the visit, he said Europe must “de-risk” diplomatically and economically with a toughening China.
For its part, China is keen to ensure that Europe does not follow what it sees as US-led efforts to stem its rise.
AVIATION AND NUCLEAR OFFERS
Macron, traveling with a 50-person business delegation that includes Airbus (AIR.PA), luxury giant LVMH (LVMH.PA) and nuclear power producer EDF (EDF.PA), is also in China seeking of economic gains.
Airbus signed deals on Thursday to open a new assembly line in China, doubling its capacity in the world’s second-biggest aviation market, and got the final green light for some previously announced aircraft orders.
The Elysee Palace said French state-owned EDF and Chinese company CGN, both major operators of nuclear plants, have signed an agreement to renew a long-standing partnership. Agreements were also signed between EDF and China Energy Investment Corporation for offshore wind projects.
Reporting by Michel Rose and Laurie Chen in Beijing; Written by John Geddie and Frank Jack Daniel; Edited by Gerry Doyle, Raju Gopalakrishnan, Christina Fincher and Jonathan Oatis
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