French President Emmanuel Macron will next week make a new push to try and dissuade China's Xi Jinping from supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin's war against Ukraine but is unlikely to make a breakthrough on ending the conflict during the visit, observers say.

President Xi's visit is set to be rich on symbolism – with a sumptuous dinner at the Elysee Palace and a trip to the Pyrenees mountains planned – but risks being short on diplomatic success for the French leader.

“France and the European Union expect him to use his influence on Russia, but Xi Jinping has nothing to offer on Ukraine,” said a former European diplomat, asking not to be named.

Xi is due to make a state visit to France on Monday and Tuesday, followed by visits to Serbia and Hungary, two European countries retaining warm ties with Russia.

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While Xi and Macron will discuss international crises, trade, climate change and cultural exchanges, the key aim will be to “point out that for Europe, the first issue with China is its position on Ukraine,” said a source close to the French government.

On a visit to China in 2023, Macron had already called on Xi to “bring Russia to its senses” over Ukraine and urged him not to deliver weapons to Moscow. 

‘Done nothing on Ukraine’

Little has changed, however. Xi will host Putin for talks in China later this month.

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Macron, 46, indicated he had not given up on the idea of trying to get Xi, 70, on his side.

“It's not in China's interest today to have a Russia that destabilizes the international order,” the French president said in an interview with The Economist published on Thursday. “We need to work with China to build peace.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who has urged Beijing to play a greater role in ending the Ukraine war, will join Macron and Xi for talks on Monday.

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Macron has said he will ask the Chinese president to help him achieve that aim when he visits Paris, which is preparing to host the Olympic Games this summer.

There is a historic tradition that peace should reign during the Olympics – although the opening of the Games in Beijing in August 2008 did not halt Russia's invasion of Georgia. 

“On Ukraine, China has done nothing,” said Marc Julienne, director of the Centre for Asian Studies at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). 

In February 2023, China published a 12-point position paper on Ukraine, but it was rejected by Kyiv and its Western allies.

‘Counter the West'

Beijing, which says it is a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict, has been criticized for refusing to condemn Moscow for its offensive.

The United States had accused China of helping Russia carry out its biggest militarization since Soviet times.

US officials say China has provided dual-use supplies that have let Russia regroup in the face of a long delay in US aid to Ukraine.

In April, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this included “machine tools, semiconductors, other dual-use items that have helped Russia rebuild the defense industrial base that sanctions and export controls had done so much to degrade.”

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China has rejected the US claims as “groundless accusations.”

Macron, too, is expected to raise “concerns” about “the activity of certain Wuhan companies that could be directly involved in or contribute significantly to the Russian war effort,” according to a member of his team.

Beijing is a major supporter of the Russian economy. 

China-Russia trade in 2023 reached a record $240 billion, according to customs data, overshooting a goal of $200 billion set by the neighbors.

Experts say Beijing is unlikely to renounce support for Moscow, which it sees as a priority partner in its opposition to the United States.

“Xi Jinping's priority is the Global South,” said Emmanuel Lincot, a China expert at the Catholic University of Paris. 

“There is a congruence in the Sino-Russian bilateral relationship, particularly in the desire to counter the West. Which is not to say that there is no rivalry.”

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