In Beijing, Spanish PM urges Xi to speak with Ukraine’s Zelenskiy
By Eduardo Baptista
BEIJING (Reuters) -Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez encouraged Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday to talk to the Ukrainian leadership and learn first-hand about Kyiv’s peace formula to help bring an end to Russia’s invasion.
Sanchez told a news conference in Beijing he had informed Xi, who visited Moscow on March 20-21, that Spain supported the proposals made by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. These include a demand to restore Ukraine’s territory to the status quo before Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“I believe it’s a plan that lays the foundations for a durable peace in Ukraine and is perfectly aligned with the United Nations charter and its principles, which have been violated by (Russian President Vladimir) Putin with his invasion,” he said.
“I transmitted our concern over the illegal invasion of Ukraine,” Sanchez said, adding that he encouraged Xi to talk to President Zelenskiy in order to get to know first-hand Kyiv’s peace plan.
Last month, Beijing put forward its own 12-point position paper on a political solution to the war in Ukraine, which included a comprehensive ceasefire in the conflict.
However, the paper also raised eyebrows among some EU officials in China for not stating that the aggressor in the conflict was Russia.
Sanchez on Thursday praised two aspects of China’s position paper – “its complete and categorical rejection of not only the use but even the threat to use nuclear weapons” and its respect for territorial integrity.
Sanchez declined to say what Xi had said about the issue.
Russia has said Ukraine must accept its loss of Crimea and four other regions in the south and east of the country.
According to a readout of the meeting from Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, Xi called for an end to a “Cold War mentality” and to the pressure of “extreme” sanctions, though he did not name Russia.
“We hope that all parties concerned will build a balanced, effective and sustainable European security architecture through dialogue and consultation,” CCTV quoted Xi as saying.
Spain, a NATO member whose foreign and security policy is closely aligned with that of the United States, is a staunch ally of Ukraine. In July it assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union’s Council, which groups the bloc’s 27 national governments.
Sanchez said he agreed with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s view that relations between the EU and China were “complex” and he stressed the need for reciprocity and a level playing field between them.
The absence of any official engagement between Xi and Zelensky since the war broke out has worried EU leaders, not least because it contrasts with signs of close personal ties between Xi and Putin, such as when both leaders greeted one another as “dear friend” in their most recent meeting.
Von der Leyen, who in a speech on Thursday said China was becoming “more repressive at home and more assertive abroad”, is scheduled to visit Beijing herself next week alongside French President Emmanuel Macron.
Sanchez urged China to seek a more balanced economic relationship with the EU and greater transparency.
On bilateral commerce, Sanchez announced agreements that would allow for the export of Spanish almonds and persimmons to China.
In 2022, Spain’s imports from China amounted to 49.6 billion euros ($53.9 billion), while exports to China reached about 8 billion euros, Spanish economy ministry data showed.
According to CCTV, Chinese Premier Li Qiang said Beijing wanted to expand trade and investment with Spain, strengthen industrial docking and increase cooperation on new energy and advanced materials as well as on Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Spain, one of the world’s most visited countries, also hopes to attract more Chinese tourists after the lifting of COVID restrictions there.
Madrid aims to “facilitate the issuing of visas” to Chinese visitors, Sanchez said, adding that Spain would host a bilateral tourism forum in the summer.
($1 = 0.9201 euros)
(Reporting by Eduardo Baptista and Laurie Chen in Beijing, writing and additional reporting by David Latona in Madrid, editing by Andrei Khalip, Gareth Jones, William Maclean)