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Macron says counting on Xi to 'bring Russia to its senses'

French President Emmanuel Macron arrives in China for a three-day state visit. ©AFP

Beijing (AFP) - French President Emmanuel Macron called on his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping Thursday to "bring Russia to its senses" over Ukraine and urged him not to deliver weapons to Moscow.

The French president, who arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for a three-day state visit, has made clear he is seeking to dissuade China from supporting Russia's invasion of its neighbour.

"I know I can count on you to bring Russia to its senses and everyone to the negotiating table," Macron told Xi during a bilateral meeting.

The two leaders met Thursday after a formal welcome ceremony in Tiananmen Square, complete with a 21-gun salute.

In remarks to the press following their meeting, Xi said he "stood ready to issue a joint call with France" for the resumption of "peace talks as soon as possible", according to Chinese state media Xinhua.

He reiterated his support of the "solemn pledge that nuclear weapons must not be used" and for all parties to "avoid attacking civilians or civilian facilities".

"In this regard, everyone must be reminded of their duties, especially Russia," Macron replied.

A recent announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus "is not consistent with the commitments made to you, to us and to international law," Macron said next to the Chinese leader.

Xi went to Moscow last month to reaffirm his alliance with Putin -- framed as an anti-Western front -- but has not yet spoken directly with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky.

According to a French diplomat, Xi expressed a willingness to speaking with Zelensky, but only when the time is right.

Macron "pressed Xi Jinping not to deliver anything to Russia that would be used for its war against Ukraine", added the French diplomat, following Western claims that Beijing could be mulling arms shipments to support Russia's war.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who is accompanying Macron on his visit, welcomed Xi's openness to speaking with Zelensky.

She said that in her own meeting Thursday with Chinese leaders, she warned that arms shipments to Russia would "significantly harm" relations.

"As a member of the UN Security Council, there is a big responsibility and we expect that China will play its role and promote a just peace, one that respects Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, one of the cornerstones of the UN charter," von der Leyen said.

'Major role'

Moscow poured cold water on prospects of mediation, insisting on Thursday it had "no choice" but to press on with its offensive in Ukraine.

"Undoubtedly, China has a very effective and commanding potential for mediation," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. 

"But the situation with Ukraine is complex, so far there are no prospects for a political settlement."

Macron's visit to China, his first since 2019, comes as Western pressure mounts on Beijing to help push for peace in Ukraine.

Beijing is officially neutral, and Xi has never condemned the Russian invasion.

Macron said he wants to "be a voice that unites Europe" over Ukraine, and that coming to China with von der Leyen serves to "underline the consistency of this approach".

Macron's talks with Xi were followed by a trilateral meeting with von der Leyen, after which the French and Chinese leaders held a state dinner.

Macron will travel to Guangzhou in southern China to meet 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 US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California on Wednesday.

Beijing baulks 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 near Taiwan hours before the talks went ahead.

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

'Strongly interconnected'

Macron's trip has an important economic component as well, with the French leader keen to firm up a crucial trade partnership.

Macron is accompanied by more than 50 French business leaders, including top bosses of Airbus, EDF and Veolia.

Airbus announced Thursday it would open a second final assembly line in China that will double its production capacity in the country, with the framework for the deal signed by CEO Guillaume Faury in Beijing.

Asia has become a key market for both Airbus and its US rival Boeing, as demand for air travel climbs with an expanding middle class.

"It makes a lot of sense for us, as the Chinese market keeps growing, to be serving local for the Chinese airlines, and probably some other customers in the region," Faury said.

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