China supports “a ceasefire to stop the war” in Ukraine “as soon as possible”, foreign minister Wang Yi told his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian on Thursday, as Europe continued to lobby Beijing to step in diplomatically. The comments came as talks in the Turkish coastal city of Antalya between Russia and Ukrainian foreign ministers finished without any breakthrough, and as gruesome images of the Russian bombardment of civilian targets sent shock waves across Europe. China has yet to condemn the Russian invasion and has offered rhetorical backing for Moscow’s blaming of the West for the war, which has rumbled into its third week. European governments have identified China as a potential peacemaker, given the close ties between President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin. They have pressed this potential role on a series of calls this week, during which Beijing has repeatedly called for a diplomatic resolution, but made no firm commitment on the part it might play. “We advocate respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine,” read a Chinese foreign ministry version of Wang’s call with Le Drian. “We are willing to see a ceasefire to stop the war as soon as possible, which is also the general wish of the international community.” Wang also spoke with Italian foreign minister Luigi di Maio, saying that as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China “will continue to make efforts in our own way to de-escalate the situation and seek peace”. Ukraine war: No progress on ceasefire in tense, ‘difficult’ talks He told di Maio that the crisis was “an issue of European security” and encouraged Europe to “conduct in-depth and comprehensive discussions with the Russian side … to achieve long-term security in Europe”, the Chinese readout said. The French and Italian governments have not released details of the conversations. Di Maio wrote on Twitter that he and Wang Yi “have agreed joint efforts for a path of peace”. On Tuesday, Xi spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, after Wang spoke with the European Union’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell on Monday. Borrell told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo over the weekend that there is “no alternative” to China as a mediator. “We [Europeans] cannot be the mediators, that is clear … and it cannot be the US either. Who else? It has to be China, I trust in that,” Borrell said. On each occasion, Beijing has decried Western sanctions on Russia, with Chinese officials they could damage the global economy. Geopolitical experts in Brussels suggested that by helping to negotiate a ceasefire, China could prove to be a strong diplomatic influence. “A public mediation initiative would carry the prospect of great diplomatic prestige, but comes without any guarantee for success, and thus runs counter to China’s risk-avert instincts on the international stage,” read a paper by the Egmont Institute, an international relations think-tank in Brussels. Courtney Fung, an associate professor at Macquarie University in Australia specialising in China and international security issues, described “the Chinese official language regarding political solutions for the Ukraine crisis is aspirational and vague, suggesting that China wants to be consulted as a responsible major country, but not responsible for resolving the crisis”. More than 2 million have fled Ukraine war as refugees: UN The situation in Ukraine has become increasingly desperate, with an estimated 2.1 million people fleeing a war that has reduced sections of major cities to rubble. A 90-minute meeting between Sergi Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba failed to reach an agreement to end the assault. Lavrov rejected a Ukrainian proposal for Kyiv’s neutrality backed by security guarantees from the US and Turkey, Kuleba said. He said that the talks “touched upon” a meeting between Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, adding that “we always stand for meetings provided that we can achieve added value and resolve issues”. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian continued on Thursday to push a theory that the US had conducted biological military activities in Ukraine, claims dismissed as “disinformation” by the White House. Official Chinese state media websites were also peppered with the claims. Thursday also brought signs, though, that some Chinese organisations were willing to comply with the biting global embargoes, which are intended to turn Russia into an international pariah. Xi warns Macron and Scholz against crippling Russian sanctions Russian state media reported that China had “refused” to supply Russian airlines with components to replace Boeing and Airbus parts that sanctions have cut off. Leaders of the EU’s 27 member states began a two-day meeting in Versailles on Thursday hoping to thrash out a blueprint to wean the bloc off Russian energy imports. The United States blocked Russian energy imports earlier this week and Britain said it would phase them out within the year. The EU, however, is much more reliant on Russian energy, consuming around 60 per cent of its exports in the sector.