- The French President visits China with EU President von der Leyen
- Both of them are scheduled to meet China’s Xi Jinping later
- Relations between the European Union and China have soured in recent years
- Trade and Ukraine is at the top of the agenda
BEIJING (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron kicked off a series of meetings with Chinese leaders in Beijing on Thursday, a visit with European Union President Ursula von der Leyen that could set the course for the bloc’s future relations with China after years of tension. links.
Newly appointed Premier Li Qiang greeted Macron at the Great Hall of the People, a huge building west of Tiananmen Square commonly used for ceremonial occasions, ahead of the summit with President Xi Jinping scheduled for later in the day.
After arriving late Wednesday, Macron said Europe should resist scaling back trade and diplomatic ties with Beijing, which has clashed with the West over issues including Taiwan, sensitive technologies and China’s close ties with Russia.
European Commission President von der Leyen, on her first visit to China since taking office in 2019, said Europe must “de-risk” its relations with Beijing, as China shifts from an era of reform and openness to an era of security and control. .
During her tenure, Europe’s relations with China have soured, mainly because of mutual sanctions that halted an investment pact in 2021 and Beijing’s refusal to condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine that has killed thousands since it began last year.
But after years of sparse diplomacy in which pandemic border controls have largely isolated the country from the rest of the world, China is anxious to ensure Europe does not follow what it sees as US-led efforts to contain its rise.
For Macron’s visit at least, there are high expectations in Beijing.
“Macron’s visit is expected to yield tangible results in promoting economic and trade cooperation between China and France, as well as increasing political mutual trust,” state media Global Times wrote in an editorial on Thursday.
“It is worth noting that various powers in Europe and the United States are paying close attention to Macron’s visit and exerting influence in different directions,” the Global Times wrote. “In other words, not everyone wants to see Macron’s visit to China go smoothly and successfully.”
“Good COP, BAD COP”
After Macron’s talks with Li, the Chinese premier is scheduled to host a “working lunch” with von der Leyen. Later in the afternoon, Macron and von der Leyen will hold separate talks with Xi before the three hold three-way talks in the evening.
Both Macron and von der Leyen have said they want to persuade China to use its influence over Russia to bring peace to Ukraine, or at least deter Beijing from directly supporting Moscow in the conflict. Russia describes the invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation”.
Some analysts have suggested that the duo may adopt the role of “good cop, bad cop” with the soft-spoken Macron promoting a “reset” in China-EU relations and von der Leyen pressing on thorny issues and red lines in those relations.
“China is a crucial trading partner, but EU companies face many discriminatory obstacles,” von der Leyen wrote on Twitter Thursday morning after meeting representatives of the European Chamber of Commerce in Beijing.
“Relationships between the EU and China are vast and complex. How we manage them will affect the prosperity and security of the EU. I am in Beijing to discuss this relationship and its future,” von der Leyen said in a previous tweet on Thursday.
Macron, who is traveling with a 50-strong business delegation including Airbus (AIR.PA), luxury giant LVMH (LVMH.PA) and nuclear energy producer EDF (EDF.PA), is also expected to announce deals with China.
But not everyone back home thinks this is a good signal to send.
“Three quarters of the delegation are business leaders: the aim is first and foremost to sign contracts,” Raphael Glucksman, a left-wing member of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter ahead of Macron’s visit. “At a time when the debate in Europe centers on our suicidal dependence on China and Chinese meddling, the message is inappropriate.”
(Reporting by Michelle Rose and Laurie Chen in Beijing; Writing by John Geddy. Editing by Jerry Doyle and Raju Gopalakrishnan
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