More European leaders to visit China, to seek 'common ground' for Ukraine crisis
Published: Feb 26, 2023 07:45 PM
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko Photo: VCG

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko Photo: VCG

More European leaders are planning to visit China in the coming week or months, focusing on resuming high-level talks and seeking practical cooperation amid the country's post-pandemic recovery, and more importantly, on the Ukraine crisis. Although China and European countries do not share the same position on the issue, Chinese officials and experts believe that the two sides can find common ground to enhance communication and coordination with the aim of advancing peace talks. 

At the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko will pay a state visit to China from February 28 to March 2, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying announced on Saturday. 

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday he would visit China in early April and called on Beijing to "help us pressure Russia" to end the war in Ukraine, AFP said. 

Although the nature of the two visits will not be the same, the Russia-Ukraine conflict will be a major focus. 

"Belarus is an ally of Russia, and it could increase its involvement in the conflict. Given its geopolitical status and location, China can learn what role Belarus could play in helping advance the peace talks," Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Sunday.  

A day before Lukashenko's visit was announced, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang talked with Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Aleinik on the phone, saying that China is willing to implement the important consensus reached by the two heads of state and deepen political mutual trust. 

On the Ukraine crisis, Qin introduced China's 12-point position paper, China's Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis, which emphasizes that China always stands on the side of peace and urges the resumption of negotiations as soon as possible while avoiding further escalation. Aleinik said Belarus completely agrees and supports China's position paper, noting that China's relevant proposals have great significance to resolving the crisis. 

"To resolve the Ukraine crisis, we can't simply exert pressure on Russia or Putin like the West wants. We need to find out if China and Belarus can find some common ground and jointly play a certain role, which will be a major focus of this visit," Cui said. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel may visit China in the first half of 2023 with preparations already underway, Chinese Ambassador to the EU Fu Cong told the Global Times in an exclusive interview. "China and the EU are expected to usher in frequent high-level mutual visits soon," he said. 

This positive trend of growing high-level exchanges between China and Europe shows that Europe does not want to see a protracted Russia-Ukraine conflict, as the bloc's economy and competitiveness have been weakened by it, Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

"Europe is gradually walking out of some irrational sentiment toward China, as they slowly understand China's position and raise more suspicions toward the US, especially following the Nord Stream sabotage," Wang said.

Macron, questioned about whether he will ask Beijing to help pressure Russia, was quoted as saying in media reports that the move aims to ensure Kremlin never uses chemical or nuclear weapons - the main points mentioned in China's position paper - and to "stop this aggression prior to negotiations." 

"There are certainly great differences in China's and Europe's positions on the Ukraine crisis, mainly due to a different understanding of the nature of the conflict," Cui said. As many European countries are also NATO members, they would not accept that the conflict was due to the NATO's eastward expansion, the expert said. 

However, Chinese officials and experts believe that the existing divergences should not hinder China and Europe to work together and find a practical solution. 

"China values France's advocacy for Europe being strategically independent, and France has a relatively independent foreign policy tradition. To avoid a bloc-driven confrontation, it's important to advance multipolar development," Cui said. 

On the Ukraine crisis, France hopes to seek a balanced solution, which is, however, not allowed in the West. But it does not mean that China and France could not enhance the coordination to find a balanced and sustainable way for ending the crisis, the expert noted. "If this solution is brought up by China and France, or China and Europe together, it's more likely to be accepted by relevant parties," Cui said.