German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visits China
FILE PHOTO-Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang speaks during a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (not pictured) at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, April 14, 2023. Suo Takekuma/Pool via REUTERS Reuters

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang said on Tuesday that Beijing would maintain lines of communication with all parties to the war in Ukraine, including Germany, in seeking a ceasefire.

European nations have repeatedly criticised China for its refusal to describe Russia's war in Ukraine as an invasion, or to call for a Russian withdrawal. Beijing has denied Western concerns that it may be considering arming Russia for its Ukraine campaign, which it calls a "special military operation" against security threats.

"As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and responsible major country, China will neither watch the fire from the other bank nor add fuel to the fire," Qin told reporters alongside German counterpart Annalena Baerbock during a visit to Berlin.

"China is willing to maintain communication with relevant parties, including Germany, to achieve an early ceasefire."

Baerbock welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy - their first since the February 2022 Russian invasion, but said it was important for Beijing to make explicit its support for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.

She said that China - which with Moscow declared a "no limits" partnership just days before Russian troops swept into Ukraine - "can play a significant role in ending the war if it chooses to do so".

Qin and Baerbock also touched on a European Union proposal to blacklist some Chinese companies and curb exports to nations seen as involved in bypassing Russia trade restrictions under the latest set of EU sanctions against Moscow over the invasion.

Qin said Beijing "firmly opposes some countries in using their so-called laws to impose long-arm jurisdiction and unilateral sanctions on other countries, including China".

He added: "China will make necessary responses and resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and legitimate interests of Chinese enterprises."

Baerbock said that negotiations on the new package of sanctions were ongoing, but that generally it was important to prevent Russian defence companies "from gaining access to war-relevant goods", and to ensure "that sanctioned dual-use goods don't fall into the wrong hands".

Diplomatic sources have told Reuters the EU executive's proposal focuses on combating circumvention of existing trade restrictions through third countries, after the EU identified China, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates as well as states in central Asia and the Caucasus as potential culprits.

Germany has been reassessing its bilateral relations with China amid increased wariness of Beijing as a strategic rival even as it remains Berlin's largest trading partner.