French President Emmanuel Macron has said he will visit China in April to seek the Chinese government’s help with ending Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The announcement on Saturday came after China published a 12-point position paper that called for a ceasefire and a “political settlement” to end the year-long conflict.
Macron, speaking on the sidelines of an agricultural show in Paris, said he would visit China in “early April”.
“The fact that China is engaging in peace efforts is a good thing,” the French leader said, stressing that peace was only possible if “Russian aggression was halted, troops withdrawn, and the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine and its people was respected”.
“China must help us put pressure on Russia so that it never uses chemical or nuclear weapons … and that it stops its aggression as a precondition for talks,” he added.
Beijing has sought to position itself as a neutral party on the conflict, even as it has maintained close ties with Russia and helped scuttle a joint statement condemning the war at a G20 gathering in India.
The Chinese position paper, published on the anniversary of the conflict, said war benefits no one and urged all parties to “support Russia and Ukraine in working in the same direction and resuming direct dialogue as quickly as possible”.
Released by the foreign ministry, the plan urges an end to Western sanctions against Russia, the establishment of humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians and steps to ensure the export of grain after disruptions caused global food prices to spike last year.
It also made clear its opposition to the use and threat of deploying nuclear weapons after Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to use Moscow’s atomic arsenal in the conflict.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed China’s efforts on Friday, saying Kyiv needed to cooperate with Beijing to put an end to the war.
“China started talking about Ukraine, and that’s not bad,” Zelenskyy said. “It seems to me that there is respect for our territorial integrity, security issues.”
“We need to work with China on this point. … Our task is to unite everyone in order to isolate one,” he added.
The Ukrainian leader also expressed hopes to meet Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, calling it “important for world security”.
But some of Ukraine’s allies have expressed scepticism at China’s commitment to brokering peace, nodding to Beijing’s close ties to Moscow.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said China was not well placed to negotiate an end to the war. “China doesn’t have much credibility because they have not been able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine,” he told reporters, adding that Beijing had signed an agreement with Putin days before the invasion, pledging a “no limits” partnership.
The United States has also said China was “considering providing lethal support” to Russia, a claim that Beijing has denied.
Analysts in China meanwhile say Beijing’s refusal to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine makes it “the only honest broker who can help resolve the conflict”.
“China as one of the largest economies in the world certainly benefits from an end to hostilities,” said Andy Mok, senior research fellow at the Center for China and Globalization think tank.
“From a reputation prestige perspective, playing a role in bringing this conflict to a close when no other major power has been able to do so would burnish China’s reputation,” he told Al Jazeera. “But we have to recognise that there’s only so much that an honest broker can do and sometimes, both sides have to fight to a certain amount of exhaustion before there can be a negotiated settlement and whether we are at this point or not, remains to be seen.”
Macron’s announcement of his Beijing visit came shortly after the Chinese foreign ministry said Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko would pay a state visit from February 28 to March 2 at Xi’s invitation.
A longtime ally of Putin, Lukashenko is beholden to the Russian president for shoring him up in 2020 after mass protests broke out against a presidential election that the Belarus opposition and Western governments said had been rigged.
Lukashenko has denied the claims and accused the West of funding protesters. He has supported Putin in his year-long war with Ukraine, including by letting him invade from Belarusian territory and by allowing Russia to train newly mobilised troops in Belarus.
Ukraine has expressed concerns that Belarus could again support Moscow in its war effort, with the countries announcing the creation of a joint regional force last October.
The Chinese government, in a statement, said Foreign Minister Qin Gang told his Belarusian counterpart Sergei Aleinik in a phone call on Friday that Beijing was willing to work with Minsk to deepen mutual political trust.
China would also continue to support Belarus in maintaining national stability and oppose attempts by “external forces” to interfere in its internal affairs or impose “illegal” unilateral sanctions on Minsk, Qin told Aleinik.