France implores China to ‘bring Russia to its senses’ on Ukraine

France’s president, accompanied by European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, says he wants to ‘be a voice that unites Europe’ over the conflict in Ukraine.

French President Emmanuel Macron says he is counting on his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to “bring Russia to its senses” over its war in Ukraine.

The French president, on a three-day state visit, made clear on Thursday he is seeking to dissuade China from supporting Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.

“I know I can count on you to bring Russia to its senses and everyone to the negotiating table,” the French head of state told Xi during a bilateral meeting in Beijing.

In a joint statement following those talks, the two leaders reaffirmed their call for peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow “as soon as possible”.

The men also reaffirmed their opposition to the use of nuclear weapons during the conflict.

To coincide with their meeting, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV released a report in which Xi hailed China’s “positive and steady” ties with France as the world undergoes “profound historical changes”.

China’s President Xi Jinping shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with Xi Jinping after a signing ceremony in Beijing on Thursday [Ludovic Marin/AFP]

‘Major role’

Macron said during his trip Beijing can play a “major role” in finding a path to peace in the conflict and welcomed China’s “willingness to commit to a resolution”.

His visit to China – the first since 2019 – comes as Western pressure mounts on Beijing to help push for peace in Ukraine.

Though Beijing is officially neutral, Xi has never condemned the Russian invasion. While he recently went to Moscow to reaffirm his alliance with Vladimir Putin – framed as an anti-Western front – Xi has not spoken on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The talks were “frank and constructive”, the Elysee Palace said, while Beijing said the discussions were “friendly” and “in-depth”.

Macron, who is accompanied on his visit by European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, said he wants to “be a voice that unites Europe” over Ukraine, and coming to China with her serves to “underline the consistency of this approach”.

However, Nicholas Bequelin, from Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center, said it was unusual for Macron and von der Leyen to travel to Beijing together “and quite confusing”.

“There are two messages coming from Europe at the moment: one that is conciliatory that tries to see China as an economic partner that it has been for the last few decades, and as an inevitable superpower of tomorrow that somehow has to be accommodated,” Bequelin told Al Jazeera.

“And then there’s a much harder line that sees China as a strategic rival – a danger for the world order – and one that needs to be contained.”

Some analysts suggested Macron and von der Leyen may adopt a “good cop, bad cop” role in Beijing with the convivial Frenchman promoting a “reset” in ties, and the EU chief laying out the thornier issues and red lines in those relations.

‘Volatile geopolitical environment’

For its part, China is eager to ensure Europe does not follow what it sees as United States-led efforts to contain its rise, and there are at least hopes of healing divisions with France.

“Macron’s visit is expected to produce concrete results in furthering economic and trade cooperation between China and France, as well as to increase political mutual trust,” state media outlet Global Times wrote in an editorial.

“It is worth noting that various forces in Europe and the US are paying close attention to Macron’s visit and exerting influence in different directions. In other words, not everyone wants to see Macron’s visit to China go smoothly and successfully.”

Von der Leyen said relations between the EU and China had grown “complex in recent years”.

“It is important that we discuss all aspects of this relationship together today,” she said, especially in the current “volatile geopolitical environment”.

Beyond talks on Ukraine, Macron’s trip has an important economic component with the French leader keen to firm up a crucial trade partnership.

Macron is accompanied by more than 50 French business leaders on his visit, including top bosses of Airbus, EDF and Veolia.

Airbus announced on Thursday it would open a second assembly line in China that will double its production capacity in the country.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies