China and France strengthen economic ties during Macron visit
Xi hails future of relationship between countries as leaders sign multimillion trade deals
French president Emmanuel Macron and Chinese president Xi Jinping shake hands after a joint press briefing at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photograph: Mark Schiefelbein/Getty Images
President Xi Jinping and Emmanuel Macron sealed a flurry of multimillion euro business deals during the French president’s first official visit to China, and the Chinese leader hailed the future of relations between the two countries.
France was the first western power to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1964, and Mr Xi said Mr Macron’s visit to China showed he was “paying high attention to the China-France relationship”.
“Chairman Mao Zedong and General Charles de Gaulle made a historic decision with remarkable political foresight to forge diplomatic ties in 1964,” Mr Xi said as the leaders met at the Diaoyutai state guest house in Beijing.
“The decision not only changed the world pattern at that time, but also has effects on the world development nowadays.”
“In the new era, we should follow the spirit of being responsible for history, stick to the right path so as to move toward a bright future of China-French ties.”
Accompanied by students from the French international school, Mr Macron and his wife Brigitte walked through the imperial palaces of the Forbidden City.
Mr Macron was greeted by a military honour guard before talks with Mr Xi, during which a key topic was the “Belt and Road” initiative to increase China’s trade links to central Asia, Europe and southeast Asia.
The environment has also been an issue during the visit, and during a speech Mr Macron said “Make our planet great again” in Chinese, a reference to Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris accord on climate change.
While seeking to boost trade links, Mr Macron is also trying to cut France’s €30 billion trade deficit with China and wants to improve access for French firms to the Chinese market.
“China is conducting its economic development strategy and, given the size of this market, it has an impact on globalisation as a whole,” Mr Macron said during a visit to a start-up incubator in the city. “This requires a strong France. If France can’t adapt, it will fall behind.”
At a signing ceremony, the two leaders were set to sign 50 trade agreements, including in the strategically key sectors of nuclear energy and aerospace. The aviation company Airbus was expected to sign a new multibillion-euro deal with China, while the Chinese online retailer JD.com announced plans to sell French goods worth €2 billion to Chinese consumers over the next two years.
The visit has been widely covered in China, and Mr Macron is seen as representing Europe as much as France.
With this in mind, the Xinhua news agency ran an editorial calling on Mr Macron to push for China to be granted market economy status by the EU.
“As a major European country, France can also play a pioneering role in solving some of the lingering issues overshadowing China’s co-operation with the continent, notably the market economy status,” it said.
“To greet his Chinese host, Macron gave Xi a horse, named Vesuvius, as a gift. In both cultures, a horse embodies the spirit of running ahead ceaselessly. So long as Beijing and Paris can hold on to that spirit, ground-breaking progress can be expected in their future relations,” it said.