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Will European diplomacy help Xi Jinping to implement his “peace plan” for Ukraine?

Photo: Meeting between Emmanuel Macron and Xi Jinping
Source: AP News

From April 5 to 8, Emmanuel Macron visited Beijing on a state visit. The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, visited China together with the President of France, which should have testified to the unity of European politics. However, the reception of Emmanuel Macron and Ursula von der Leyen, the rhetoric of the two politicians, on the contrary, emphasized the differences on the issues of Europe's interaction with other actors of international relations.

Before her visit to China, Ursula von der Leyen made critical comments towards the Asian state. The President of the European Commission condemned the position of the People's Republic of China on Ukraine and the relations of the Chinese leadership with Putin, for the violation of human rights within the state, as well as for the economic punishment of those countries that do not share Beijing's point of view. Probably because of this, the reception of the President of France and the head of the European Commission was radically different. While Xi Jinping and Emmanuel Macron spent time at joint events accompanied by lavish celebrations, the Chinese press demonized von der Leyen, who received a cold reception. Chinese diplomacy motivated this by the different status of the guests.

As the result of the visit, the presidents of France and the People's Republic of China adopted a joint declaration consisting of 51 points.[1] 3 of them concerned Ukraine. Despite the fact that at the beginning of the visit at a joint press conference with Xi Jinping, the French president explained at length the problem of the Russian invasion and the importance of restoring the European security architecture for the world, the points regarding Ukraine were written in a more neutral style, which is typical feature of the position of the PRC.

In particular, China and France confirmed their support for all efforts aimed at restoring peace in Ukraine based on international law and the goals and principles of the UN Charter; parties opposed armed attacks on nuclear power plants and other peaceful nuclear facilities, and supported the IAEA in its efforts to play a constructive role in promoting the safety and protection of peaceful nuclear facilities, including ensuring the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant; emphasized the importance of strict observance of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict and called, in particular, to protect women and children, victims of the conflict, to increase humanitarian aid to conflict zones, as well as to ensure safe, quick and unhindered access for humanitarian aid in accordance with international obligations. These points completely repeat the provisions of Xi Jinping's Peace Plan regarding the political settlement of the Russian-Ukrainian war, which the PRC published in February.

The point of the joint declaration regarding the intention of the two countries to deepen the cooperation of the French Asia-Pacific Naval Command with the People's Liberation Army of China in the South China Sea, "with the aim of strengthening mutual understanding on regional and international security issues," seems controversial. While France's NATO Allies are building a network of alliances in the Indo-Pacific region and are increasingly involved in containing China, the European leader is signing an agreement to deepen relations with Beijing in the military sphere. Such a move is a blow to the Euro-Atlantic unity, which has strengthened over the last year. Emmanuel Macron supplemented the official document signed after the meeting with dubious statements, which, according to Politico, the Elysee Palace banned from publishing in full. In his interview with an American newspaper, the French president said that Europe should reduce its dependence on the United States, avoid getting dragged into a confrontation between China and the U.S. over Taiwan, and that the Europeans cannot resolve the crisis in Ukraine.[2]

Thus, Emmanuel Macron questions his country's readiness to respond harshly to China's attempts to seize Taiwan. In addition, the prospects of deepening relations between China and France were not tied to China's behavior. The actions of the French leader resemble the policy of Germany and France towards Russia before the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine.

Emmanuel Macron supported his actions with statements about European strategic autonomy and immediately upon his return to Europe and during his next visit to the Netherlands, he delivered a keynote speech that conceptually complemented his initiative. In the Netherlands, Emmanuel Macron's speech was built around the idea of creating a single European market without barriers. Such a market would give Europe advantages in the global confrontation with the United States and the People's Republic of China. However, there is a fundamental contradiction.

The security of Europe is ensured not by France, but by the United States of America. Emmanuel Macron's idea of realizing European political autonomy under the leadership of France has common features with the aspirations of Great Britain in the context of London's new "Global Britain" strategy. Macron, just like the leadership of Great Britain, seeks more active involvement of his country in solving global issues. However, the fundamental difference in the approaches of the two states lies in the vision of ways to achieve the task. If Great Britain has stepped up work in the diplomatic sphere to strengthen ties with the states of the Indo-Pacific region, there is a discussion about the need to increase the funding of international aid programs, then France is trying to achieve leadership in Europe without increasing costs, only through diplomatic negotiations.

At the same time, Emmanuel Macron's statements ignore the interests of Eastern European states, whose security depends on the United States of America. A strong Europe is a concept that is a useful aspiration, because both the countries of the continent and the United States of America will benefit from a strong Europe. However, Emmanuel Macron's concept is ultimately naive. Europe cannot be strong without the USA.

China's interest is to oust the US from East Asia. Russia's interest is to oust the USA from Europe. Emmanuel Macron's trip plays against the US and its European allies. As evidenced by the visit, Xi Jinping has not changed his position on Ukraine and Russia. The President of France signed economic agreements with China, which contributed to the development of domestic business at the expense of Euro-Atlantic unity. French companies continue to work in Russia and develop activities in China. They have the right to do so, however, under such conditions, the French president's claim to leadership in Europe is inappropriate, as France ignores the interests of Eastern European states and plays along with China. The PRC hopes to alienate with the European allies of US to strengthen its own position in the global confrontation, and the currently weak position of France seems to give Beijing hope for success.

1. Déclaration conjointe entre la République française et la République populaire de Chine, 07.04.2023,
2. Europe must resist pressure to become ‘America’s followers,’ says Macron, 09.04.2023,