French leader also commits diplomatic faux pas at Beijing press conference.
APRIL 6, 2023
The French president arrived in China on Wednesday in the hope of pushing China to use its leverage with Russia to end the conflict | Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images
BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping showed no sign of changing his position over Russia’s war on Ukraine after talks Thursday with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.
On the second day of Macron’s state visit to China, Xi took his long-standing line on Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine — saying that “all sides” have “reasonable security concerns” — and gave no hint he would use his influence to help end the conflict.
“China is willing to jointly appeal with France to the international community to remain rational and calm,” was as far as the Chinese leader would go during a press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
“Peace talks should be resumed as soon as possible, taking into account the reasonable security concerns of all sides with reference to the U.N. Charter … seeking political resolution and constructing a balanced, effective and sustainable European security framework,” he added, sitting next to Macron.
The French president arrived in China on Wednesday in the hope of pushing China to use its leverage with Russia to end the conflict, and to get Beijing to speak out against the Kremlin’s threat to host nuclear missiles in Belarus.
During his private meeting with Xi, Macron raised Western concerns that Beijing will deliver weapons to Russia, according to a French diplomat with knowledge of the talks. But the French leader didn’t seem to get far.
“The president urged Xi not to make deliveries to Russia that would help its war against Ukraine. Xi said this war is not his,” the diplomat said, speaking anonymously to describe the private session.
The talks — which an Elysée Palace official nonetheless described as “frank and constructive” — ultimately lasted an hour and a half.
Afterward, the action moved to a signing ceremony, where officials and business leaders inked several deals, including the sale of 160 Airbus aircraft. According to the Elysée, the Chinese government approved the purchase of 150 A320 Neo planes and 10 A350s — a delivery that was part of a €36-billion deal Airbus announced last year. The information contradicted previous information from an Elysée official, who said a new sale was being negotiated.
During the deal-signing ceremony, every Chinese minister and business executive bowed deeply to Xi before signing the contracts with their French counterparts.
Xi and Macron then stepped in for their joint appearance, billed as a “press conference with Communist characteristics” — essentially meaning no press questions allowed.
The two leaders’ contrasting styles were immediately apparent. Xi read his carefully scripted remarks while staring straight ahead before ceding to Macron. The French leader then proceeded to speak for roughly twice as long as his host — a protocol faux pas that members of Xi’s Chinese entourage noticed.
Xi himself at times looked impatient and annoyed as Macron continued speaking. The Chinese leader heaved several deep sighs and appeared uncomfortable as Macron addressed him directly while apparently ad-libbing on the Ukraine war and their joint responsibility to uphold peace.
Macron also appealed to Xi to explicitly condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
“Speaking about peace and stability means talking about the war waged by Russia against Ukraine. You’ve made some important comments,” the French leader said. “This is a war that involves all of us because a member of the Security Council has decided to violate the U.N. charter. We cannot accept that.”
Macron and Xi spent one and a half hours in bilateral talks that were described as “frank and constructive” by an Elysée Palace official | POOL photo by Ng Han Guan/AFP via Getty Images
French lawmaker Anne Genetet, who also held talks Thursday with Chinese officials, admitted there were “no surprises” in the Chinese position on Ukraine, but argued it was still useful to lay some groundwork on the issue.
“It’s the beginning,” Genetet said. “There will be more talks and some private moments [between Xi and Macron]. Maybe we’ll get some other messages.”
Xi and Macron will head to the Chinese city of Guangzhou on Friday, where they will hold more talks and a private dinner.
However, in what will be read as a concession to the French, Xi did talk about the need for the warring parties to “protect victims including women and children,” which comes after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against Putin over his role in illegally transferring Ukrainian children to Russia.
Xi didn’t explicitly mention Russia in his remarks, though. And in a move likely to irk U.S. officials, Xi also said that China and France should “resume exchanges between the legislative bodies and militaries.” He then included France in a common refrain that Chinese officials use to criticize the U.S.
“China and France shall continue to … oppose Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation, joining hands in addressing all types of global challenges,” Xi said.
On Thursday, Xi also held talks with Macron and with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who was invited by Macron to showcase European unity but who will not take part in many of the events between the Chinese and French leaders.
Indeed, von der Leyen held her own solo press conference as night fell on Thursday in Beijing. Unencumbered by the formalities of a state visit, the EU leader took questions from reporters and sent several pointed messages to Beijing.
She warned it against aiding Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine: “Arming the aggressor is a clear violation of international law — he should never be armed,” she said. “This would indeed significantly harm the relationship between the European Union and China.”
And she touched a diplomatic third rail: Taiwan.
“Nobody should unilaterally change the status quo by force in this region,” she said, alluding to China’s threats toward the self-governing island. “The threat of the use of force to change the status quo is unacceptable.”
Von der Leyen did echo Macron’s message, however, that China could play an important role in Ukraine, calling Beijing’s stance “crucial.”
She added: “We expect China will play its role and promote a just peace, one that respects Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty.”
Clea Caulcutt and Jamil Anderlini reported from Beijing. Stuart Lau reported from Brussels.