Macron aims to boost Sino-European relations on China state visit
Élysée stresses that ‘Europe must not be the collateral victim’ in US-China trade dispute
French president Emmanuel Macron is being accompanied by about 50 businessmen. Photograph: Getty
President Emanuel Macron will defend French and European interests during a three-day state visit to China, which began with a gala dinner inaugurating the China International Import Expo in Shanghai on Monday night.
The import fair is intended to show China’s willingness to open up its economy, against the backdrop of trade wars with the US. France is the guest of honour. China clocked up a €30 billion trade surplus with France last year, exporting €49 billion worth of goods to France, while Paris exported only €19 billion to China.
France and Germany want to show a united European front in dealing with China. When the Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited Paris last March, Mr Macron surprised him by inviting German chancellor Angela Merkel and EU commission president Jean-Claude Junckerto their meeting at the Élysée. Dr Merkel intends to hold an unprecedented summit of 27 EU leaders with China during Germany’s rotating presidency of the EU next year.
In the past, China has attempted to divide its European trading partners by dealing with them individually or in small regional groups. Mr Macron signalled his goal of forcing China to deal with the union as a bloc by including Phil Hogan, the Irish commissioner for agriculture, who will hold the trade portfolio in the incoming commission, and Anja Karliczek, the German minister for education and research, in his delegation.
This is Mr Macron’s way of showing that “while European businesses remain competitors to sell their products, they speak with one voice on key questions of trade rules and intellectual property”, said Pierre Haski, a commentator and China expert on France-Inter radio.
The Élysée stresses that “Europe must not be the collateral victim, or the adjustment variable, of a trade war or agreement between the US and China”.
China showed it has understood by appointing a senior diplomat, Wu Hongbo, as its first “special representative for European affairs” on November 1st.
Mr Macron is also accompanied by about 50 French businessmen, including the heads of large companies such as L’Oréal, BNP Paribas, Airbus and Sanofi, as well as representatives of start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises. They are expected to sign about 40 contracts in the sectors of aeronautics, energy, agrifood industry, tourism and health.
Mr Macron is seeking a Chinese commitment to protect European investments in China and an opening to European poultry exports in addition to beef and pork. He also hopes to relaunch civil nuclear energy co-operation between France and China.
It may still be too soon, however, to conclude the €11 billion contract for a radioactive waste treatment plant which the French nuclear giant Orano (formerly Areva) has been negotiating for a decade.
Much of the emphasis is on agrifood industry. Mr Macron last year succeeded in persuading China to lift its 17-year-old embargo on French beef, which was initiated at the time of the mad cow crisis. Yet only 21 French companies are allowed to sell meat in China.
A tense friendship?
Guillaume Roué, head of the French pig farmers’ association Inaporc, is accompanying Mr Macron. Chinese pig herds have been decimated by swine fever, dramatically increasing European exports and driving up pork prices.
Mr Macron has promised to visit China every year, like Dr Merkel. This is his second state visit and his sixth meeting with Mr Xi. Chinese officials made effusive statements of friendship in the run-up to the visit. “Between friends, one always gives the best, and particularly to a friend who comes from afar,” said foreign ministry official Zhu Jing last week, paraphrasing Confucius.
The French and Chinese leaders and their spouses will dine together in the Yu gardens in old Shanghai on Tuesday night, which is Mr Xi’s way of reciprocating for the Macrons’ invitation to the Villa Kérylos on the Côte d’Azur last March.
However, there are sources of tension underlying the show of friendship. Mr Macron is under pressure from human rights groups to raise China’s repression of demonstrations in Hong Kong, and its persecution of the Muslim Uighur minority in Shinjiang province.
The Élysée said Mr Macron will raise human rights “without taboos” and “in a frank and respectful framework”. But Mr Zhu of the foreign ministry warned that “Hong Kong and Xinjiang are China’s internal affairs. It is not pertinent for them to be on the diplomatic agenda.”