Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, shakes hands with French...

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, shakes hands with French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. Credit: AP/Ng Han Guan

BEIJING — French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said Friday that China's cooperation is vital on an issue that has divided it and much of Europe: ending the war in Ukraine.

She encouraged China to continue working on its Ukrainian peace proposal while also ensuring that Chinese entities do not aid Russia in what she called “the ongoing war of aggression in Ukraine” — phrasing the Chinese side would disagree with.

“France underlines once again how its cooperation with China is essential to promote a just and lasting peace,” she said after talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. "We are counting on the vigilance of the Chinese authorities so that no structure in China, particularly private, contributes directly or indirectly to Russia’s illegal war effort in Ukraine.”

Her meetings in Beijing underscored an effort by both sides to continue a dialogue despite their growing differences, whether on the Ukraine war, the Israel-Hamas war or Europe's huge trade deficit with China. The talks in some ways foreshadowed an EU-China leaders meeting next month.

In a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang earlier in the day, Colonna said their countries should work together to address issues such as climate change and biodiversity. A major U.N. climate conference starts next week in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“As big powers, we both share the responsibility to tackle global challenges ... and we can make concerted efforts in alleviating tensions around the world,” she said.

China has been critical of U.S. efforts to seek the help of its allies, including in Europe, in its competition with China over trade, technology and security. It has accused the U.S. of building groupings to contain China's development and rise.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang, right, and French Foreign minister Catherine...

Chinese Premier Li Qiang, right, and French Foreign minister Catherine Colonna attend a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. Credit: AP/Jade Gao

Wang warned against the politicizing of issues and protectionism. The European Union has been taking a tougher line on China, launching a trade investigation into subsidies given to Chinese electric vehicle makers.

“We believe that as long as China and Europe work together, there will be no confrontation between camps, no division of the world, and no new Cold War," Wang said.

The Chinese government has refrained from criticizing Russia’s invasion or the Hamas attack that sparked its latest war with Israel, taking a different stance than many in Europe and the United States. It has accused the West of prolonging the European conflict by supplying arms to Ukraine and called for an end to the fighting in both wars.

Colonna said that dialogue with China on the Gaza situation, and even cooperation, would be useful. She called for the release of all the hostages, including eight French-Israeli citizens, three of whom are children.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang, right, and French Foreign Minister Catherine...

Chinese Premier Li Qiang, right, and French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna hold a talk at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. Credit: AP/Jade Gao

“Every state has the right to defend itself, but we must cooperate so that terrorism is contained and so that what happened cannot happen again,” she said.

Her trip came shortly after a delegation of foreign ministers from Muslim-majority countries and territories visited China and France as part of a series of meetings with permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to push for a cease-fire in Gaza. A four-day truce in the war started Friday.

Despite their differences, China has been trying to repair its relations with major trading partners including Europe, the U.S. and Australia. The lifting of China’s pandemic restrictions last December has helped, making it much easier to hold in-person meetings.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited China in April followed by Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in July.

“Relations between China and France are getting better and better in all aspects,” Premier Li, the country's No. 2 leader, said. “In particular, our exchanges at all levels are now becoming more frequent because many of the mechanisms have been restored.”

Wang tried to reassure European companies that China remains a good and safe place to do business. New regulations have added uncertainty to the business environment and made foreign investors wary at a time when China is seeking investment to help revive a sluggish economy.

“We will listen to the voices of the European business community, earnestly solving the problems of investors in China,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris and video producer Olivia Zhang in Beijing contributed to this report.

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