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Macron seeks to sway China’s Xi on Ukraine

It remains unclear what sway Macron has over Xi
It remains unclear what sway Macron has over Xi - Copyright POOL/AFP Michel Euler
It remains unclear what sway Macron has over Xi - Copyright POOL/AFP Michel Euler
Stuart Williams

French President Emmanuel Macron was on Monday set to warn Chinese leader Xi Jinping against backing Russia in the conflict over Ukraine but also seek to enlist his help in finding an end to the war.

Xi is making a state visit to France marking 60 years of diplomatic relations between France and China. The trip is his first to Europe since 2019 and will also see him visit Serbia and Hungary later in the week. 

But Xi’s choice of France as the sole major European power on his itinerary indicates the importance the leader of the one-party Communist state of more than 1.4 billion people accords to Macron as an EU powerbroker over two years into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Xi and Macron are to hold a day of talks in Paris on Monday from 0830 GMT — also including EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen for a morning trilateral meeting — followed by a state banquet hosted by Macron at the Elysee.

Tuesday will see Macron take Xi, who is accompanied by his wife Peng Liyuan, to the Pyrenees mountains to an area he used to visit as a boy for a day of less public and more intimate talks.

In an op-ed for Le Figaro daily, Xi said that he wanted to work with the international community to find ways to solve the conflict sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while emphasising that China was “neither a party nor a participant” in the conflict.

“We hope that peace and stability will return quickly to Europe, and intend to work with France and the entire international community to find good paths to resolve the crisis,” he wrote.

– ‘Stability of international order’ –

A key priority of Macron will be to warn Xi of the danger of backing Russia, with Western officials concerned Moscow is already using Chinese machine tools in arms production.

Beijing’s ties with Moscow have, if anything, warmed after the invasion and the West wants China above all not to supply weapons to Russia and risk tipping the balance in the conflict.

“It is in our interest to get China to weigh in on the stability of the international order,” Macron said in an interview with the Economist published on Thursday.

Macron also said in the same interview that Europe must defend its “strategic interests” in its economic relations with China, accusing Beijing of not respecting the rules on international trade.

But he acknowledged in an interview with the La Tribune Dimanche newspaper that Europeans are “not unanimous” on the strategy to adopt as “certain actors still see China essentially as a market of opportunities” while it “exports massively” to Europe.

The French president had gladdened Chinese state media and troubled some EU allies after his 2023 visit by declaring that Europe should not be drawn into a “bloc versus bloc” standoff between China and the United States, particularly over democratic, self-ruled Taiwan.

China views the island as part of its territory and has vowed to take it one day, by force if necessary.

– ‘Two core messages’ –

Rights groups are urging Macron to bring up human rights in the talks, accusing China of failing to respect the rights of the Uyghur Muslim minority and of keeping dozens of journalists behind bars.

“President Macron should make it clear to Xi Jinping that Beijing’s crimes against humanity come with consequences for China’s relations with France,” said Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch.

The group said human rights in China had “severely deteriorated” under Xi’s rule.

Hundreds of protesters Sunday unfurled a Tibetan flag at a demonstration in Paris, accusing Xi of being a “dictator” and wanting to erase local culture in the Tibet region, an AFP reporter said.

However analysts are sceptical that Macron will be able to exercise much sway over the Chinese leader, even with the lavish red-carpet welcome and a trip to the bracing mountain air of the Col du Tourmalet over 2,000 metres (6,560 feet) above sea level on Tuesday.

The other two countries chosen by Xi for his tour, Serbia and Hungary, are seen as among the most sympathetic to Moscow in Europe.

“The two core messages from Macron will be on Chinese support to Russia’s military capabilities and Chinese market-distorting practices,” said Janka Oertel, director of the Asia programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“However, both messages are unlikely to have a significant impact on Chinese behaviour: Xi is not on a mission to repair ties, because from his point of view all is well.”

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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