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Macron meets Xi in Beijing with Ukraine top priority

Macron meets Xi in Beijing with Ukraine top priority
April 6, 2023 Web Desk

BEIJING (AFP) - President Emmanuel Macron met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing on Thursday, as the French leader seeks to dissuade China from supporting Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The French president, who arrived on Wednesday for a three-day state visit, shook hands with Xi outside the Great Hall of the People, the heart of power in China's capital. Xi greeted his guest on a huge red carpet lined by Chinese and French flags as the countries' national anthems played, an AFP journalist said.

Macron has said during his trip that Beijing can play a "major role" in finding a path to peace in the conflict and welcomed China's "willingness to commit to a resolution". His visit to China -- his first since 2019 -- comes as Western pressure mounts on Beijing to help push for peace in Ukraine. Though Beijing is officially neutral, Xi has never condemned the Russian invasion.

While he recently went to Moscow to reaffirm his alliance with Vladimir Putin -- framed as an anti-Western front -- Xi has not spoken on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Macron, who is accompanied on his visit by European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, said he wants to "be a voice that unites Europe" over Ukraine, and that coming to China with her serves to "underline the consistency of this approach".

In a Thursday morning meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang at the Great Hall of the People, Macron stressed the importance of dialogue between China and France "in these troubled times". "The ability to share a common analysis and build a common path is essential," he said.

And in a separate meeting with Li, von der Leyen told the premier that relations between the EU and China had grown "complex in recent years". "It is important that we discuss all aspects of this relationship together today," she said, especially in the current "volatile geopolitical environment".

Following Macron's talks with Xi, the pair will give statements to the press, followed by a three-way meeting with von der Leyen and a state dinner. Macron will travel to Guangzhou in southern China to meet local students on Friday, taking with him a broad delegation of top politicians, business leaders and even celebrities, including composer Jean-Michel Jarre.

Taiwan tensions 

The visit comes in the face of mounting Chinese pressure on Taiwan, with the island's President Tsai Ing-wen meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California on Wednesday. Macron told journalists Wednesday he did not think his Chinese counterparts had "a desire to overreact" to the meeting.

Tsai hailed the talks, saying they showed the self-ruled island was "not isolated" on the international stage. Beijing balks at any official contact between Taipei and the rest of the world, insisting there is only "one China". China had repeatedly warned both sides that the meeting should not take place and deployed an aircraft carrier through waters near Taiwan hours before the talks went ahead.

Three additional warships were detected in waters separating the island from mainland China, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defence said on Thursday. 

'Strongly interconnected'

Beyond talks on Ukraine, Macron's trip has an important economic component, with the French leader keen to firm up a crucial trade partnership. Macron is accompanied by more than 50 French business leaders on his visit, including top bosses of Airbus, EDF and Veolia.

"Several important contracts will be signed" on Thursday, he has promised, warning against an economic decoupling from China. Von der Leyen has also pledged to raise the EU's yawning trade deficit with China during her meetings this week.

"Our economies are strongly interconnected but the EU trade deficit is increasing due to discriminatory practices," she said in a tweet.