- 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 Ukraine peace
- China’s peace plan for Ukraine met with scepticism
- Trade ‘risks’ and business deals also on summit agenda
BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Xi Jinping expressed willingness to speak to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the head of the EU said on Thursday, after French President Emmanuel Macron urged Beijing to talk sense to Russia over the war in Ukraine.
In closely watched talks, European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen and Macron met with Xi in Beijing. Macron said the West must engage China to help end the crisis and prevent “spiralling” tensions that could split global powers into warring blocs.
Xi, who has sought to position China as a potential mediator in the conflict but has been seen by the West as favouring Russia, responded by saying he hoped Moscow and Kyiv could hold peace negotiations as soon as possible.
“It was interesting to hear that President Xi reiterated his willingness to speak” to Zelenskiy, Von der Leyen said. Xi said a conversation could happen when the “conditions and time are right”, she added.
Xi did not mention a possible conversation with Zelenskiy in his own comments after the meetings.
Zelenskiy has repeatedly asked Xi to meet him, including after the Chinese leader visited Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last month. A French diplomatic source told Reuters that Xi was “ready” to call Zelenskiy.
“The Russian aggression in Ukraine has dealt a blow to (international) stability,” Macron told Xi, standing alongside the Chinese president outside the Great Hall of the People at the start of their bilateral meeting, which lasted 90 minutes.
“I know I can count on you to bring Russia back to its senses and everyone back to the negotiating table.”
Beijing’s reputation as a diplomatic player was reinforced in March when it brokered a deal for Iran and Saudi Arabia to resume ties after years of hostility that had fuelled insecurity in the Gulf.
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 dismissed by the West due to China’s refusal to condemn Russia for invading its sovereign neighbour. The United States and NATO have said China was considering sending arms to Russia, which Beijing has denied.
The French diplomatic source said Macron had urged Xi not to provide weapons to Russia, and that Xi had replied that it was not his war. China was ready to work together with France on obtaining a negotiated end to the fighting, the source said.
However, more than a year into a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, there is little sign either Russia or Ukraine are keen to negotiate.