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Macron faces delicate Ukraine balancing act during China visit

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French President Emmanuel Macron will visit China from Wednesday, hoping to dissuade Beijing from supporting Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine but without alienating a crucial trade and geopolitical player, according to France 24. 

“China is the only country in the world capable of having an immediate and radical impact on the conflict, in one direction or the other,” an official from Macron’s office told reporters Friday on condition of anonymity.

Macron will look to stand firm towards President Xi Jinping on Ukraine while taking “another path” from the directly confrontational tone often heard from Washington, the official added.

The French leader’s aims include preserving and rebalancing China’s trade ties with Europe as well as safeguarding French interests in the Asia-Pacific region – where Paris sees itself as a player thanks to its overseas territories and military deployments.

That Macron’s visit will have an impact beyond France and affect the entire 27-nation European Union is clear from that presence on the trip of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

She visited Macron in Paris Monday to coordinate their preparations.

In a speech last week, von der Leyen cautioned Beijing against direct support for the war while ruling out the 27-member European Union “decoupling” from China.

China has portrayed itself as seeking a peaceful resolution to Russia’s attack on its neighbour.

But Xi’s friendly visit to Moscow last month and announcement of a peace plan most saw as skewed towards Russia have Western countries doubtful.

“How China continues to interact with Putin’s war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward,” said von der Leyen.

Within the bloc, economic heavyweights France and Germany see preserving trade with China as a priority, while nations in the EU’s east – closer to Ukraine and with stark memories of Russian occupation – would prefer to up the pressure on Beijing over the invasion.

Macron will himself bring a delegation of some 60 business leaders to Beijing, including the bosses of Airbus and EDF – some hoping to sign lucrative new contracts.

“We do not want to cut economic, societal, political and scientific ties,” von der Leyen said, although Brussels like Paris hopes to “rebalance” the trading relationship “on the basis of transparency, predictability and reciprocity”.