Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Xi Jinping arrives in France with Ukraine and an EU trade row at the top of his agenda

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President Xi Jinping has lauded China’s ties with France as a model for the international community, as he arrived in Paris for a rare visit against a backdrop of mounting trade disputes with the EU.

French President Emmanuel Macron is set to urge Xi to reduce trade imbalances and to use his influence with Russia over the war in Ukraine. Xi is due to meet Macron and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Monday.

Xi, who was welcomed in Paris by prime minister Gabriel Attal, said in a statement released on his arrival that ties between China and France were “a model for the international community of peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation between countries with different social systems”.

In a separate op-ed published in the French daily Le Figaro, the Chinese president said he was coming to France with three messages: that Beijing was committed to opening up “new vistas” in its relationship with France; opening up “ever wider” to the world and to upholding world peace and stability.

“While opening up itself, China also encourages Chinese companies to go global,” Xi wrote. “France is advancing re-industrialisation based on green innovation, whereas China is accelerating the development of new quality productive forces.”

On the war in Ukraine he wrote that China “understands the repercussions of the Ukraine crisis on the people of Europe”. He emphasised that Beijing is not “a party to or a participant in it”, adding that “China has been playing a constructive role in striving for peaceful settlement of the crisis”.

Xi’s visit to Europe is the first since 2019 and will also see him visit Serbia and Hungary.

One of Macron’s key priorities will be to warn Xi of the danger of backing Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, with western officials concerned Moscow is already using Chinese machine tools in arms production.

The west wants China above all not to supply weapons to Russia and risk tipping the balance in the conflict.

Xi Jinping is met by Gabriel Attal, the prime minister of France. Photograph: Jeanne Accorsini/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

“It is in our interest to get China to weigh in on the stability of the international order,” said Macron in an interview with the Economist published on Thursday.

“We must, therefore, work with China to build peace,” he added.

France is also backing a European Union probe into Chinese electric vehicle exports, and in January, Beijing opened an investigation into mostly French-made imports of brandy, a move widely seen as a tit-for-tat retaliation for EU probes.

“We want to obtain reciprocity of exchanges and have the elements of our economic security taken into account,” Macron said in an interview with French newspaper La Tribune ahead of Xi’s two-day visit, his first trip to the region in five years.

Von der Leyen said Monday she will press for “fair” competition with China in talks with Xi.

“We have to act to make sure that competition is fair and not distorted,” she said, adding, “I have made clear that the current imbalances in market access are not sustainable and need to be addressed”.

The European Commission, the European Union’s authority on trade issues, has opened a slew of competition probes targeting China in recent months.

Beijing has reacted furiously to the most recent investigation, into suspected inequitable access to China’s medical devices market, calling it a sign of EU “protectionism”.

Prime minister Gabriel Attal welcomes Xi Jinping in France. Photograph: Stephane Lemouton-pool/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

The EU’s 27 members – in particular France and Germany – are divided on their attitude towards China.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will not join Macron and Xi in Paris due to prior commitments, sources said.

“In Europe, we are not unanimous on the subject because certain players still see China as essentially a market of opportunities,” Macron said, without naming any countries.

France will also seek to make progress on opening the Chinese market to its agricultural exports and resolve issues around the French cosmetic industry’s concerns about intellectual property rights, officials said.

China may announce an order for about 50 Airbus aircraft during Xi’s visit, but it remains uncertain whether it will be a new deal, people familiar with the negotiations said.

On Tuesday, Macron will take Xi to the Pyrenees, a mountainous region dear to the French president as the birthplace of his maternal grandmother, before Xi heads to Serbia and Hungary.

Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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