French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday he would visit China early next year, hoping to persuade Beijing to help mediate an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Addressing reporters at the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, Macron said he was “convinced that China can play a more important mediation role alongside us in the coming months, in order to avoid in particular a resumption of even stronger offensives on the ground from early February”. Macron said he had discussed his visit to Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping when the pair met on the sidelines of the summit on Tuesday, part of a flurry of diplomatic activity between Xi and European leaders. Following a meeting between Xi and new Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Wednesday, Italian media reported that she had also accepted an invitation to visit Beijing. Meloni, a far-right minister who has previously espoused hawkish views towards China, declined to say whether she would renew Italy’s membership in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, according to the reports. In July, the South China Morning Post reported that the Chinese government had invited leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain to Beijing. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz this month became the first Western European leader to visit China, shortly after Xi sealed an groundbreaking third term as the Communist Party leader. Macron had offered to travel with Scholz, but was rebuffed by his German counterpart. Macron’s statement on Chinese mediation marks a revival in rhetoric that was commonplace in the early days of the war. Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, frequently said that Beijing could play a role in negotiating a settlement. This idea that China can play a role as a mediator is based on zero empirical facts Janka Oertel, European Council on Foreign Relations Those hopes largely faded, though, over 10 months of gruelling warfare, during which China continued to refuse to condemn Russia’s aggression. In Brussels, Beijing’s position is commonly phrased as “pro-Russian neutrality”. Chinese leadership has continually expressed a desire for a peaceful settlement in Ukraine, but has taken no action towards ending the war. Despite requests from Kyiv and from EU officials, Xi has yet to speak directly with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. An EU official, asked about China’s potential role as a mediator, said they “did not see it going anywhere”. “It should be taken seriously, but not literally, as they used to say about Trump,” the official said, adding that China’s opposition to the use of nuclear weapons was seen as “useful”, even if there was little expectation that Beijing would or could mediate. A Chinese government account of the meeting with Macron said that Xi had “emphasised that China’s position on the Ukrainian crisis is clear and consistent, advocating ceasefire, cessation of war and peace talks”. ‘The international community should create conditions for this, and China will continue to play a constructive role in its own way,” Xi was quoted as saying. Xi slams tech restrictions, urges G20 members to be inclusive However, China analysts in Europe said that Beijing has shown no indication of taking meaningful action to resolve the conflict. “This idea that China can play a role as a mediator is based on zero empirical facts, it is instead more wishful thinking on the part of European leaders,” said Janka Oertel, director of the Asia programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It will be exploited by China, without Europe getting any benefits. If you want to know where China stands on the conflict, look at Wang Yi’s meeting with [Sergey] Lavrov,” she added, referring to a session the Chinese and Russian foreign ministers held on Tuesday. The Chinese readout from that meeting said that “China is ready to work with Russia to pursue a well-coordinated approach to high-level exchanges and exchanges in various fields, deepen pragmatic cooperation and facilitate personnel exchanges”. G20: Russia’s Lavrov slams West’s ‘obsession’ with Ukraine war Macron’s confirmation of his visit to Beijing – his first since before the coronavirus pandemic – comes after months of speculation. Philippe Le Corre, an analyst of Sino-French relations, said that Macron’s statements were intended to wrest the spotlight back from Scholz, whose visit generated huge media coverage in Europe, a mixture of positive and negative. “Macron is preparing the ground for his visit, with his comments on mediation. He is trying to get back to centre stage in the EU, following Scholz’s visit,” Le Corre said. In the whirlwind of diplomacy, however, European Union leaders have been left looking on from the sidelines. After hosting Scholz in Beijing, Xi has used the G20 session to meet with top officials from France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. But while European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen travelled to Bali, they did not get face time with him. “It’s quite an interesting shift. Until recently the Chinese always went to the EU. Now we are back to bilaterals,” Le Corre said.