France urges China to send ‘clear message’ to Russia over Ukraine

Published April 2, 2024
France’s Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of “The Forbidden City and the Palace of Versailles” exhibition, which celebrates the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between France and China, at the Forbidden City in Beijing on April 1, 2024 — AFP
France’s Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of “The Forbidden City and the Palace of Versailles” exhibition, which celebrates the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between France and China, at the Forbidden City in Beijing on April 1, 2024 — AFP

BEIJING: France’s top diplomat said on Monday that Paris wants China to send “clear messages” to its strategic ally Russia over its war in Ukraine, after meetings with his counterpart in Beijing.

France and China have sought to strengthen ties in recent years and, during meetings in Paris in February, Foreign Minister Wang Yi told President Emmanuel Macron that Beijing appreciated his country’s “independent” stance. But Paris has also sought to press Beijing on its ties with Moscow, which have only grown closer since the invasion of Ukraine.

While China says it is a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict, it has been criticised for refusing to condemn Moscow for its offensive. Paris has, in contrast, become one of Kyiv’s firmest backers, with Macron in February even refusing to rule out putting troops on the ground in Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said that Beijing “plays a key role in... the respect of international law, including on Ukraine’s sovereignty, and therefore we are clearly expecting that China will send very clear messages to Russia”.

“We are convinced that there will be no lasting peace if it is not negotiated with the Ukrainians,” he told a press conference in Beijing, speaking alongside his Chinese counterpart Wang. “There will be no security for Europeans if there is no peace in accordance with international law,” he continued.

“It is an essential issue for us, which is why France is determined to maintain a close dialogue with China,” he said.

‘Closeness’

Sejourne’s visit is the second to China by a French foreign minister in less than six months, following a trip by his predecessor Catherine Colonna in November. On Monday afternoon he met Premier Li Qiang at Beijing’s opulent Great Hall of the People, telling China’s number two official he wanted to discuss “global situations that are fracturing and dividing the world today”.

“I am thinking of the situation in the Middle East, but also in Ukraine,” he said. Li said he was “very happy” to welcome the minister to Beijing. “Our two countries have a long history and splendid civilisations,” Li said, hailing their shared “spirit of independence and autonomy”.

“This explains why China and France have a natural sense of closeness,” he said.

Macron also visited last April, receiving a rock star welcome at a university in southern China from hundreds of screaming students and fans. But he faced accusations of cosying up to Beijing and sparked controversy by saying Europe shouldn’t be a “follower” of the United States in the event of conflict with China over Taiwan.

His foreign minister’s visit this week comes as part of events marking the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and China. Sejourne will later in the day take part in the launch of the “Versailles and the Forbidden City” exhibition, where around 60 works of art and valuables from the palace can be viewed by the public until the end of June.

Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2024

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