Gauging if Beijing could play a constructive role in pressuring Russia to resume negotiations in Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron this week paid a three-day visit to China, according to an expert.
Macron urged his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on Thursday to “bring everyone around the negotiating table” on the Russia-Ukraine war.
He said France and China had a “strategic partnership” and it is also about “talking peace and stability in the world.”
Garret Martin, a senior lecturer at American University, said Macron hopes to attain some negotiated settlement in Ukraine but there would be a need for some sort of mechanism to be able to provide guarantees to Ukraine and Russia for stability and security.
“I don’t think China can do that, as of now. Macron is trying to plant a seed in the Chinese leadership to see if over time they would be more willing to encourage Russia to consider their negotiations,” he told Anadolu in a Zoom interview.
“But I don’t think that this would happen any time soon. But I think he believes that it is worth to try keeping those channels of communication. You might recall that just before the war started in 2022, Macron was very active in going to Russia, to Moscow, to see if he could stop the war.”
China proposed a 12-point peace plan in February to end the war.
Putin said the plan could be utilized as the basis for a peaceful settlement.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has cautiously welcomed China’s proposal, however, he said he would only consider it acceptable if it ultimately results in the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory.
Macron has one more purpose to visit China, according to Martin.
“There is a commercial interest. A large delegation of business officials accompanied Macron. It’s also a signal that France still views economic contact and maintaining some better channels with China as an important goal,” he said.
Macron is reportedly being accompanied by more than 50 CEOs, including the heads of Airbus and Alstom, as he met with the French business community.
In 2022, trade in goods between the two countries reached $111 billion, marking a year-on-year growth of 14.6%.
Macron and US President Joe Biden had a telephone conversation before Macron visited Beijing, in which they agreed to encourage China to expedite the conclusion of the war but both sides have different approaches to dealing with China.
“I think it’s fair to say that there’s been a convergence between the American position, which is more confrontational toward China, and the European position, which I think was more mixed, allowed for the prospect of more cooperation,” said Martin.
He said there are some European leaders, including Macron, who do not necessarily want to be in line with the US position against China.
“I think they want Europe to be able to carve some degree of political autonomy and not be forced to follow in the line of the US,” he said.
There is more financial and economic exposure for European countries, according to Martin.
“There are a lot more ties between Europe and China, so the cost of decoupling would be a lot higher in Europe than they are in the US,” he added.
No major turnaround in relations between China and the EU in the foreseeable future
Asked about EU-China relations in the wake of Macron’s visit, Martin said it is symbolically important to Macron to invite EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to showcase that there is European unity on the China question.
“I think there’s been a concern in the past that sometimes China would adopt a bit of a divided approach to Europe and I think there’s an understanding that there are some differences of emphasis within European countries when it comes to China,” said Martin.
He said European ties with China are not promising.
“There is too much disaffection in Europe over the last few years whether it’s over issues of human rights and Xinjiang, whether I think there’s been sort of disaffection over the fact that China has been largely supportive of Russia over the question of Ukraine,” he said. “So, I think at best you might be able to sort of slow down the sort of deterioration in relation and try to make sure that you sort of mitigate the impact. But, I don’t see any major turnaround in relations between China and the EU for the foreseeable future.”
Martin is not expecting any major outcomes in terms of concrete achievements from the visit or concrete deliverables for the moment.
“I think the helpful way to look at this is that at the very least there is a dialogue at the high level between Chinese and EU officials. It was very much curtailed during the pandemic and there were very limited contacts at that sort of high level and that matters to maintain those channels of communication,” he said.
“I’m still somewhat skeptical, but at the very least you have a dialogue which it’s not existent between the US and China at the highest level right now,” he added.