By Peter Catterall
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang will visit Europe this week, Beijing said Monday, as China pushes to act as a mediator in the Ukraine conflict.
Qin will hold meetings with counterparts from Germany, France and Norway from Monday to Friday, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, without giving further details of his itinerary.
“At the invitation of German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt, state councillor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang will visit Germany, France and Norway from 8 to 12 May,” Wang said.
The trip comes two weeks after China insisted it respects the sovereignty of all former Soviet countries, following comments by its ambassador to France that drew anger in Europe and threw into question Beijing’s efforts to position itself as neutral in the Ukraine war.
Ambassador Lu Shaye said countries that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union “don’t have effective status under international law because there is not an international agreement confirming their status as sovereign nations”.
His comments to French broadcaster LCI appeared to be referring not just to Ukraine, which Russia invaded in February 2022, but to all former Soviet republics that emerged as independent nations after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the explanation from Beijing had “duly clarified” the issue and that China was not calling into question the sovereignty of ex-Soviet states.
Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky by phone shortly after the furore over Lu’s comments, the first call between the two leaders since Russia’s invasion.
The nearly one-hour discussion, which reportedly included Xi advocating for peace negotiations, was met by Russian accusations that Ukraine was undermining efforts to end the fighting.
A 12-point “position paper” published by China in February was seen by many Western governments as skewed towards Russia, and a friendly Moscow visit in March by Xi to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin led to widespread criticism.
Beijing says it is neutral in the Ukraine conflict. Xi has never condemned the Russian invasion but the Chinese leader has come under increased pressure from Western nations to step in.
Baerbock, on a visit to Beijing last month, urged China to ask “the Russian aggressor to stop the war” in Ukraine and said “no other country has more influence on Russia”.
She also said she had expressed concerns about human rights issues and warned of the dangers of escalating tensions with Taiwan.
Her visit to the Chinese capital came a week after that of French President Emmanuel Macron and the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, who also urged Beijing to play a greater role in resolving the crisis in Ukraine.
Colonna was part of a delegation accompanying Macron on the trip.
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