France’s EU chief Macron is looking on China to mediate within the Ukraine warfare

China’s President Xi Jinping (L) and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron attend the official welcoming ceremony in Beijing April 6, 2023.

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Two of Europe’s top political heavyweights held talks with China’s President Xi Jinping on Thursday at a time when EU-China relations are at a serious crossroads.

After a grand military ceremony and bilateral and trilateral talks, French President Emmanuel Macron urged Xi to “bring Russia back to sanity.”

He said China could also help bring Moscow, with which Beijing has friendly ties, back to the negotiating table more than a year after the start of the large-scale invasion of the Kremlin in Ukraine.

Xi said all countries should respect their commitments to non-use of nuclear weapons and “refrain from any action that would further worsen the crisis or even cause it to spiral out of control,” according to Reuters.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who is also in Beijing for talks with Xi, said at a press conference: “As a member of the UN Security Council, we bear a great responsibility – we expect China to play its role and to achieve a just peace , which respects the sovereign and territorial integrity of Ukraine, one of the cornerstones of the UN Charter.”

She added that the EU relies on China not to provide Russia with military equipment, directly or indirectly, which would “seriously damage our relationship” and constitute a “violation of international law”.

“I encouraged President Xi to approach President Zelenskyy,” von der Leyen said. “Xi reiterated his willingness to speak if the conditions and time are right.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (C) arrives for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing April 6, 2023.

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Von der Leyen also spoke about the business and trade relations between China and the EU.

She said the EU has concerns about its widening trade deficit with China, enforcement of intellectual property rights and the fact that EU companies are not allowed to operate on a level playing field in the Chinese market.

This has led to some being urged to decouple from China. “I Doubt this is a viable or desirable strategy,” she said. “We want to solve the current problems through dialogue…risk reduction through diplomacy.”

China was the largest source of EU imports and the third largest buyer of EU goods in 2022, underscoring Beijing’s economic importance to Europe. This is particularly relevant when the EU’s economic growth is threatened by the ongoing war in Ukraine.

The 27-strong bloc is thus walking a tightrope, trying to forge economic ties with China while also reaffirming a close political and cultural relationship with the United States. That task has become particularly difficult as the US administration ramps up its anti-Beijing rhetoric — even more so in the wake of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, which has made Europe even more dependent on the US for energy and security.

“Europe has come quite close to the position of the United States,” Niclas Poitiers, a research associate at Bruegel, told CNBC’s Squawk Box Europe on Monday, adding that Brussels wants to reduce dependence on China. The EU was heavily dependent on Russia for energy supplies and now wants to avoid similar mistakes in other parts of the world.

French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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“Overall there is a consensus that we need to do something about our over-reliance on China and make sure they don’t blackmail small member states,” Poitiers said.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez met with China’s President Xi last week. Europe’s top foreign policy diplomat, Josep Borrell, is also traveling to China next week.

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