Macron starts China visit with call for co-operation with Europe

French leader kicks off three-day visit at starting point of ancient Silk Road

French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte at  the Museum of Terracotta Warriors in Xian, in northwestern China’s Shaanxi Province on Monday. Photograph: Mark Schiefelbein/AFP/Getty Images

French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte at the Museum of Terracotta Warriors in Xian, in northwestern China’s Shaanxi Province on Monday. Photograph: Mark Schiefelbein/AFP/Getty Images

 

French president Emmanuel Macron on Monday began his first state visit to China in Xian, a key city in China’s “Belt and Road” project, saying Europe and China should work together on the modern-day Silk Road initiative.

During his three-day trip, Mr Macron will position himself very much as the face of Europe, and aim to balance the need to boost trade with the world’s second biggest economy with his calls for a more stringent approach to investment from China into Europe.

In a French take on “panda diplomacy” – China’s policy of gifting pandas to foreign governments – Mr Macron is giving President Xi Jinping a seven-year-old horse from the presidential cavalry corps called Vesuvius.

“Our destinies are linked,” Mr Macron said. “The future needs France, Europe and China. We are the world’s memory. It is up to us to decide to be the future,” Mr Macron said in an hour-and-a-quarter long speech in Xian, the city where the Silk Road began.

Mr Macron’s talks with the Chinese leadership are expected to encompass a broad range of subjects include trade, climate change, global terrorism and the digital economy.

The €1 trillion Belt and Road infrastructure initiative is the brainchild of Mr Xi and is aimed at reviving the ancient Silk Road trade route and increasing Chinese influence in the region by connecting China by land and sea across Central Asia, Pakistan and Southeast Asia, and further to the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

Two-way process

Mr Macron said that trade had to be a two-way process.

“After all, the ancient Silk Roads were never only Chinese . . . I am simply saying that by definition, these roads can only be shared. If they are roads, they cannot be one-way,” he said at the Daming imperial palace of the Tang dynasty.

Mr Macron also said he would propose a joint “year of ecological transition” to fight climate change, and he also offered to join China in supporting development in Africa.

He also visited the “Terracotta Warriors”, a collection of 8,000 clay soldiers from the ancient tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shihuang.

The visit marks Mr Macron’s first Asian trip since he came to power last year.

The airport road in the capital was festooned with the tricolour for the Beijing leg of the state visit and Mr Macron and his wife Brigitte will be welcomed with a 21-gun salute and a visit to the Forbidden City on Tiananmen Square.

China is France’s sixth largest trading partner, and accounts for France’s biggest trade deficit at about €25 billion, while France is China’s fourth largest trading partner in the EU.

The official Xinhua news agency praised his pragmatism.

“Bilateral relations will be further enhanced if he remains pragmatic, which is particularly helpful amid a smear campaign against China by some western politicians and media recently,” ran an editorial on Xinhua.

President Donald Trump received an equally grand reception when he came to China in November. The Xinhua commentary made a barbed remark about Mr Trump’s protectionist policies.

“Being practical helps Macron realise the vacuum of leadership left by the ‘America First’ policy and its resultant damage,” it said. – Additional reporting: agencies