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Macron in China urges ‘shared responsibility for peace’

French officials say the president plans to urge Xi in talks Thursday to use Beijing’s influence with Russian President Vladimir Putin but didn’t expect a big shift in the Chinese position

French President Emmanuel Macron gives a speech as he meets the French community, in Beijing, China, Wednesday, April 5, 2023.
French President Emmanuel Macron gives a speech as he meets the French community, in Beijing, China, Wednesday, April 5, 2023.Associated Press/LaPresse (APN)

French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday he wants to “engage China toward a shared responsibility for peace” in Ukraine when he meets Chinese leader Xi Jinping this week. French officials said earlier that Macron planned to urge Xi in talks Thursday to use Beijing’s influence with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but didn’t expect a big shift in the Chinese position.

Macron is to be accompanied by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a show of European unity in dealings with Beijing. Xi and Putin declared their governments had a “no limits friendship” before Moscow’s February 2022 attack on Ukraine. Beijing has refused to criticize the Kremlin but has tried to appear neutral and has called for a cease-fire and peace talks.

In a speech to French residents of China, Macron said he would “try to build, and somehow engage China toward a shared responsibility for peace and stability on international issues” including Ukraine, Iran and North Korea.

Macron expressed hope China will “participate in initiatives that are useful to the Ukrainian people.”

“Dialogue with China is indispensable,” Macron said during the event at the French Embassy.

Xi’s government sees Russia as a source of energy and as a partner in opposing what both say is U.S. domination of global affairs. China is the biggest buyer of Russian oil and gas, which helps to prop up the Kremlin’s revenue in the face of Western sanctions. That increases Chinese influence, but Xi appears reluctant to jeopardize that partnership by pressuring Putin.

Macron noted Putin’s announcement that Moscow plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which China opposes.

“Territorial integrity, the sovereignty of nations is part” of the Charter of the United Nations, which China affirmed, Macron said.

Defending those principles “means moving forward together and trying to find a path for peace,” Macron said. He noted China proposed a peace plan in February and that while France doesn’t fully agree with it, the plan “shows a will to commit toward the resolution of the conflict.”

Meanwhile, NATO’s 31 member countries warned Wednesday of “severe consequences” should China start sending weapons and ammunition to Russia.

“Allies have been clear that any provision of lethal aid by China to Russia would be a historic mistake, with profound implications,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after chairing a meeting of the organization’s foreign ministers in Brussels.

Stoltenberg declined to say what the implications of such a move might be, but warned only that it would involve “severe consequences.”

“At a time when Beijing and Moscow are pushing back against the rules-based international order, it is even more important that we continue to stand together,” he said.

Last week, von der Leyen warned the European Union must be prepared to develop measures to protect trade and investment that China might exploit for its own security and military purposes.

Thierry Breton, EU commissioner for internal market, said Monday on French news broadcaster FranceInfo the message to Chinese authorities is that they “must stop trying to play one country against another.”

Macron also said “several major deals” were due to be signed between French and Chinese companies during the visit. He was accompanied by more than 50 French CEOs including from Airbus, railway equipment manufacturer Alstom and energy giant EDF.

A French official said last week negotiations were underway on a potential deal with Airbus that would come on top of China’s 2019 order for 300 aircraft.

Macron said he will push for “working in partnership” with China on climate. He said France will organize a global conference on the protection of oceans in 2025 and said China should be part of these efforts.

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