French President Emmanuel Macron was welcomed by a large crowd as he neared the end of a three-day visit to a university in southern China as he repeatedly urged his counterpart Xi Jinping to end the conflict in Ukraine.
Macron, who landed in the capital Beijing on Wednesday, said he was trying to convince China not to back Russia’s aggression against its neighbor.
He flew to the southern city of Guangzhou on Friday, surrounded by hundreds of cheering students and fans seeking selfies or high-fives with the French leader, a contrast to China’s staid political system.
Macron, whose name was called among the crowd, addressed students in the campus gym and answered their questions before meeting Chinese investors and having an early dinner with them before heading home.
Russia’s conflict with Ukraine has dominated Macron’s visit to China – his first since 2019.
And the war is “a violation of our international laws,” they told the Guangzhou students.
He told them that Russia is “a country that has decided to colonize its neighbor and not obey laws.”
“The international system is now weakened and China and France have a responsibility to protect it and to recreate it in terms of the realities of the 21st century,” he said.
Macron urged them to adopt a “critical spirit” that would enable them to become “free and rational individuals” – another way of learning from the rigid, state-controlled education that Chinese students learn.
– ‘Bring Russia to Mind’ –
“I can count on you to bring Russia to its senses and bring everyone to the negotiating table,” Macron said in a meeting with Zee on Thursday.
And as a French diplomat, Xi expressed his willingness to talk with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, but only when the time is right.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who accompanied Macron on his visit, welcomed Zelensky’s ability to speak.
In contrast to the outgoing Macron, von der Leyen took a more assertive tone in talks with Chinese officials this week.
On Thursday, Beijing said it had shared with officials its deep concern over the worsening human rights situation in China, and that arms exports to Russia would seriously damage relations.
But Moscow poured cold water on Beijing’s mediation promises, insisting on Thursday that it had “no choice” to continue the Ukrainian offensive.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “Without a doubt, China is very effective and has the ability to order mediation.”
“But the situation in Ukraine is complicated, there are still no prospects for a political settlement.”
– business partnership –
Beyond the war in Ukraine, Macron’s visit is focused on strengthening a vital trade partnership.
The French leader was accompanied by more than 50 French business leaders, including senior executives from Airbus, EDF and Veolia.
Airbus announced on Thursday that it will open a second final assembly line in China that will double its production capacity.
Airbus and its American rival Boeing have become the main market, with a growing middle class as demand for air travel increases.
Macron’s China trip comes as he faces challenges at home, with anger rising over a controversial pension reform that sparked fresh clashes between protesters and police in Paris on Thursday.