French President Emmanuel Macron has appealed to Xi Jinping to “bring Russia back to its senses and bring everyone back to the negotiating table” over the Ukraine war.
The Chinese leader called for peace talks but he gave no indication that Beijing would use its leverage as President Vladimir Putin‘s diplomatic partner to press for a settlement.
France’s President Macron was visiting Beijing with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who said she expects China to promote a just peace that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty.
After a meeting between the trio, Ms Von der Leyen said President Xi expressed his willingness to speak to Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy as Mr Xi continues to refuse to condemn Russia for its February 2022 invasion.
“It was interesting to hear that President Xi reiterated his willingness to speak” to Mr Zelenskyy, she said. President Xi said a conversation could happen when the “conditions and time are right”, she added.
The Chinese premier did not mention a possible conversation with Mr Zelenskyy in his comments after the discussions.
And Mr Xi gave no sign that China had changed its stance since calling for peace talks in February.
“Peace talks should resume as soon as possible,” Mr Xi said on Thursday. And he called on other governments to avoid doing anything that might “make the crisis deteriorate or even get out of control”.
The Ukrainian president has repeatedly asked Mr Xi to meet him, including after he visited Mr Putin in Moscow last month.
President Xi has sought to position China as a potential mediator in the conflict but is seen by the West as favouring Russia.
The Chinese leader said he hoped Moscow and Kyiv could hold peace negotiations as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Mr Macron said the West must engage with China to help end the war and prevent “spiralling tensions”.
“The Russian aggression in Ukraine has dealt a blow to (international) stability,” he told President Xi as they stood outside the Great Hall of the People at the start of their 90-minute bilateral meeting.
“I know I can count on you to bring Russia back to its senses and bring everyone back to the negotiating table.”
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 ceasefire.
But the plan has been largely dismissed by the West due to Mr Xi’s refusal to criticise Mr Putin’s actions.
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It is understood that Mr Macron also urged President Xi not to provide weapons to Russia, to which the Chinese leader replied it was not his war.
The United States and NATO have said China was considering sending arms to Russia, which Beijing has denied.
Mr Macron also asked Mr Xi to press Russia to comply with international rules on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
The European leaders’ visit to China comes after years of souring relations with Beijing over issues including accusations of human rights abuse against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, a stalled investment pact and China’s reluctance to condemn Russia over its Ukraine invasion.