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France's Macron, EU Chief Call on China to Mediate in Ukraine War

Ludovic Marin | AFP | Getty Images
  • After a grand military ceremony and bilateral and trilateral talks, French President Emmanuel Macron called on Xi to "bring back Russia to reason."
  • He said China could also help bring Moscow, with which Beijing maintains friendly relations, back to the negotiating table more than a year after the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
  • China was the largest source of EU imports and the third largest buyer of EU goods in 2022, highlighting Beijing's economic importance for Europe.

Two of Europe's top political heavyweights on Thursday held talks with China's President Xi Jinping, at a time when the EU-Sino relationship is at a serious crossroads.

After a grand military ceremony and bilateral and trilateral talks, French President Emmanuel Macron called on Xi to "bring back Russia to reason."

He said China could also help bring Moscow, with which Beijing maintains friendly relations, back to the negotiating table more than a year after the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Xi said all countries should respect commitments on not using nuclear weapons and "refrain from any action that would lead to further deterioration of the crisis or even to it getting out of control," according to Reuters.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who is also in Beijing for talks with Xi, said in a news conference, "As a member of the U.N. Security Council there is a big responsibility – we expect China will play its role and promote a just peace, one that respects Ukraine's sovereign and territorial integrity, one of the cornerstones of the U.N. charter."

She added the EU was counting on China not to provide military equipment to Russia directly or indirectly, which would "significantly harm our relationship" and be a "violation of international law."

"I encouraged President Xi to reach out to President Zelenskyy," von der Leyen said. "Xi reiterated his willingness to speak when conditions and time are right."

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (C) arrives for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and France's President Emmanuel Macron at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 6, 2023.
Laurent Fievet | Afp | Getty Images
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (C) arrives for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and France's President Emmanuel Macron at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 6, 2023.

Von der Leyen also discussed China and the EU's business and trade relationship.

She said the EU had concerns over its ballooning trade deficit with China, the enforcement of intellectual property rights, and EU companies not being allowed to operate on a level playing field in the Chinese market.

This has led to calls by some to decouple from China. "I doubt this is a viable or desirable strategy," she said. "We wish to solve the current issues through dialogue ... derisking through diplomacy."

China was the largest source of EU imports and the third largest buyer of EU goods in 2022, highlighting Beijing's economic importance for Europe. This is particularly relevant when EU economic growth is vulnerable to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

The 27-member bloc consequently walks a tightrope, looking to develop economic ties with China, but also to reaffirm a close political and cultural relationship with the United States. This task has become particularly difficult as the U.S. administration ramps up its anti-Beijing rhetoric — more so, in the wake of Russia's invasion of its neighbor Ukraine, which has left Europe even more reliant on the U.S. for energy and security.

"Europe has converged quite a lot to the position of the United States," Niclas Poitiers, a research fellow at Bruegel, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" Monday, adding that Brussels wants to reduce dependencies on China. The EU was heavily reliant on Russia for energy, and it now wants to avoid making similar mistakes with 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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French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met Chinese President Xi Jinping.

"Overall, there is a consensus that we need to do something about our overreliance on China and ensure they don't blackmail small member states," Poitiers said.

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez met China's President Xi last week. Europe's top foreign affairs diplomat, Josep Borrell, is also heading to China next week.

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