French President Emmanuel Macron is "working on a secret plan" with China aimed at bringing Russia and Ukraine to the negotiating table as early as this summer, Bloomberg reports.
Citing "people familiar with the plans" who spoke on condition of anonymity, the report alleges that Macron has tasked his foreign policy adviser Emmanuel Bonne to collaborate with Chinese foreign policy chief Wang Yi to devise a "framework" which could be used as a starting point for future negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv.
Bloomberg's report comes just days after Macron returned from a controversial trip to China, during which the 45-year-old French leader informed his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that he is "counting" on China to "bring Russia to its senses" and end its war in Ukraine.
Whilst refraining from giving explicit confirmation of Bloomberg's report, unnamed French sources subsequently told The Daily Telegraph: "Macron said publicly during his trip that he wanted to get China to commit to playing a constructive role. Naturally, diplomatic discussions took place and there is a follow-up."
In a response to a question about Macron's alleged plan on Wednesday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated: "China supports the European side, which, guided by its own fundamental and long-term interests, is looking to resume peace talks between Russia and Ukraine as soon as possible."
A pathway to peace?
Macron's conciliatory gestures to Beijing are in sharp contrast with the increasingly hawkish stance of other EU leaders. In a speech delivered in Brussels in March, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen vehemently denounced China's decision to cultivate warmer ties with Russia despite the latter's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
"Far from being put off by the atrocious and illegal invasion of Ukraine, President Xi is maintaining his 'no-limits friendship' with Putin," Von der Leyen said. "How China continues to interact with Putin's war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward."
The EU chief subsequently accompanied Macron on his trip to Beijing, during which she warned China not to provide weapons to Russia to help it win the war and affirmed that she "stands firmly behind" Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's 10-point peace plan rather than China's alternative 12-point peace proposal.
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Unlike China's plan, Zelenskyy's proposal explicitly condemns Russia's invasion and calls for the establishment of a special tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes.
By contrast, Macron lightly praised China's plan during his visit, although he stopped short of fully endorsing it: "Do we agree with everything in [China's plan]?" the French President asked. "No. But it shows a willingness to play a responsible role and try to build a pathway to peace."