Macron Wraps Up China Visit, but Little Progress Seen on War

President Emmanuel Macron of France concluded a three-day visit to China on Friday, with the two countries having discussed everything from the study of lunar samples to the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

But their joint statement on the talks said little about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, despite Mr. Macron’s efforts to persuade China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to do more to help end the war.

Mr. Xi’s meetings with Mr. Macron, which included a private dinner and a rare meeting outside Beijing, are part of China’s efforts to strengthen its ties with Europe as its relations deteriorate sharply with the United States.

To the frustration of European and American leaders, China has not condemned Russia’s invasion and has instead preserved its close ties to Moscow, where Mr. Xi was welcomed warmly on a trip last month. The joint statement released on Friday avoided mention of Russia in several places, suggesting that China had not changed its stance on the war.

The Sino-French statement reiterated both countries’ opposition to nuclear war, for instance, but did so without mentioning Russia or its recent threat to put nuclear weapons in Belarus.

The State of the War

  • War Plans Leaked: The Pentagon is investigating a leak of classified documents detailing secret American and NATO plans for building up the Ukrainian military ahead of a planned offensive against Russian troops. The documents were recently posted on social media. 
  • Macron in China: President Emmanuel Macron of France and Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, called for a rapid return to peace talks to end the war in Ukraine during a visit by Macron to China.
  • Finland’s Entry to NATO: The Nordic country officially became the military alliance’s 31st member, in what amounts to a strategic defeat for President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
  • Drone Warfare: Using aerial drones to spot the enemy and direct artillery fire has become a staple of war for Ukraine and Russia, especially in the fiercely contested city of Bakhmut.

Similarly, China and France said they were opposed to attacks on nuclear power plants and called for “ensuring the safety and security” of one Ukrainian plant, in Zaporizhzhia. But the statement did not address Russia’s military occupation of that plant, where nearby fighting has raised international fears of a possible disaster.

The sole direct mention of Ukraine in the 51-point statement had few specifics: “Both parties support all efforts to restore peace in Ukraine on the basis of international law and the purposes and principles of the charter of the United Nations.”

France and China also called on the parties “to protect women and children, victims of the conflict, and to increase humanitarian aid to conflict zones, and to provide safe, rapid and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid in accordance with international commitments.”

But the statement made no mention of Ukrainian and Western allegations that Russia has abducted thousands of Ukrainian children. Nor did it mention that the International Criminal Court had issued arrest warrants last month for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, in connection with the children.

Mr. Macron at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou on Friday.Credit…Pool photo by Gonzalo Fuentes

The simultaneous release of the statement came after an unusual effort by Mr. Xi to build ties with France. He and other Chinese leaders held a long series of meetings with Mr. Macron on Wednesday and Thursday, and the presidents then traveled on Friday to Guangzhou, the commercial hub of southeastern China, for a private dinner there.

Mr. Macron visited Sun Yat-sen University earlier in the day in Guangzhou, where he was met by more than 100 students. Some tried to pose for photos with the French president — a contrast with the more staid, tightly controlled public appearances typical of Chinese leaders.

China is hoping to drive a wedge between Europe and the United States by courting European leaders like Mr. Macron, who favors greater autonomy from American foreign policy. Beijing’s fear is that Europe could put trade and investment restrictions on China like those imposed by the United States, which is far more suspicious of Beijing’s intentions.

“Beijing hopes that Macron may be able to play a role in stabilizing E.U.-China relations,” said Li Mingjiang, an associate professor of international relations at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. “This is a very important diplomatic goal for China in the context of worsening relations with the United States and Washington’s efforts in rallying its allies and partners against China.”

Mr. Macron, in turn, came to China seeking to persuade Mr. Xi on the war. But Mr. Xi at least publicly maintained his delicate balance of the past year: tilting toward Russia in the conflict while seeking to lure European investors to China and to split Europe politically from the United States.

The French president’s charm offensive appeared to have limits. Mr. Xi gave no indication that he would be willing to answer Mr. Macron’s call on Thursday to “bring Russia back to reason and everyone back to the negotiating table.”

Instead, Mr. Xi said he was ready only to issue a call for a political settlement in Ukraine that accommodated “the legitimate security concerns of all parties” — language that would have echoed Beijing and Moscow’s claim that the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe had caused the war.

Mr. Xi also said he was willing to speak with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine when “conditions and time are right,” according to Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, who accompanied Mr. Macron to Beijing.

Ms. von der Leyen, who ended her visit on Thursday, received a cooler reception than Mr. Macron because of her more hawkish views on China, highlighted in a speech she gave last week warning that Beijing was trying to build an alternative world order that would put security ahead of human rights.

In an apparent rebuke, the Chinese leader told Ms. von der Leyen that the European Union should “avoid misunderstanding and misjudgment,” according to a Chinese readout of the two leaders’ meeting.

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