BEIJING: French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday that China had a “major role” to play in finding a path to peace in Ukraine, as he kicked off a three-day visit to Beijing. Speaking at a gathering of the French community in Beijing ahead of a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday, Macron said France would seek to work with China “in this shared responsibility for peace and stability” in Ukraine.

“China, with its close relationship with Russia, which has been reaffirmed in recent days, can play a major role,” he said, noting Beijing’s stated opposition to the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine as well as its proposal for peace between Kyiv and Moscow. The French president’s first trip to China in four years is set to be dominated by the conflict in Ukraine, with an official from his office telling reporters he would seek to stand firm in talks with Xi.

Speaking to journalists after his remarks, Macron said: “We have decided since the beginning of the conflict to help the victim, and we have also made it very clear that anyone helping the aggressor would be an accomplice in breach of international law.”

The French leader’s aims also include preserving and rebalancing China’s trade ties with Europe, as well as safeguarding France’s interests in the Asia-Pacific. “We must not disassociate ourselves, separate ourselves from China,” Macron told Beijing’s French community upon arrival, saying France would “commit proactively to continue to have a commercial relationship with China”.

Macron discussed his trip to China and support for Ukraine during a phone call with US President Joe Biden on the eve of his visit, the White House said. The conversation showed the “common will of France and the United States to engage the Chinese to accelerate with us the end of the war in Ukraine and build a lasting peace”, Macron’s office said.

‘Common agenda’

The US and French presidents also hope to “obtain from the Chinese a contribution to the global effort of North-South solidarity”, and to build “a common agenda” on climate and biodiversity. Macron landed in Beijing at around 3:15 pm (0715 GMT) and, after emerging into the capital’s brisk spring air below overcast skies, was greeted on the tarmac by Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang as soldiers watched on.

He will hold talks on Thursday with Xi and other Chinese leaders and attend a state dinner in the evening. On Friday, he will travel to Guangzhou in southern China to meet local students, taking with him a broad delegation of top politicians, business leaders and even celebrities, including composer Jean-Michel Jarre.

Macron’s visit coincides with a flashpoint meeting between Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California on Wednesday. Beijing has said it would “closely monitor the situation and firmly defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity”, and warned McCarthy that he would be “playing with fire” by meeting Tsai.

China claims democratic Taiwan as part of its territory to be taken one day, by force if necessary. Also visiting Beijing this week is European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who met Macron in Paris on Monday to coordinate preparations. In a speech last week, von der Leyen cautioned Beijing against direct support for the war in Ukraine, while ruling out the EU “decoupling” from China. – AFP