Macron hoping to keep China’s European ambitions on right path

Chinese president Xi Jinping’s state visit to France will include impromptu EU summit

Chinese president Xi Jinping  during a welcome ceremony prior to a meeting with Prince Albert II of Monaco in Monte Carlo on Sunday.  Photograph: Sebastien Nogier/EPA

Chinese president Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony prior to a meeting with Prince Albert II of Monaco in Monte Carlo on Sunday. Photograph: Sebastien Nogier/EPA

 

French president Emmanuel Macron is stretching his political philosophy of constructive ambiguity to the limit during the state visit of the Chinese president Xi Jinping. The visit started on Sunday night on the Côte d’Azur, and will continue in Paris through Tuesday morning.

True to his slogan, “en même temps”, Macron wants China to be a privileged French trading partner, but he also wants the EU to deal with China as a bloc. To that end, he has invited German chancellor Angela Merkel and the president of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, to an impromptu summit with Xi at the Élysée on Tuesday morning.

And though Macron is grateful to China for supporting the Paris climate accord, and for co-operating with France in Africa, he has deep misgivings about the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Pharaonic network of terrestrial and maritime links launched by Xi in 2013 to ease the transport of Chinese exports.

The trade routes “cannot be the routes of a new hegemony that would in a way turn the countries through which it passes into vassal states,” Macron said on his visit to China in January 2018.

Macron’s wish to foster a united EU strategy on the BRI is off to a bad start. The French were aghast when Italy became the first member of the G7 group of industrialised nations to sign a secret protocol with Xi on the BRI last week. To Paris’s chagrin, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Portugal have signed similar accords.

United policy

Macron is also campaigning within the EU for a united policy on reciprocity between China and the EU in access to public markets, and for surveillance of Chinese investment in strategic sectors in Europe. Minister for finance Bruno Le Maire says he has refused many Chinese “pillage investments”.

Xi’s visit marks the 55th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China

The Élysée is still considering whether to accept the 5G internet system developed by the Chinese giant Huawei, which was founded by a former officer in the People’s Liberation Army. Us president Donald Trump says Huawei is a vehicle for espionage, and rejected it out of hand. But Monaco has entrusted its entire telecommunications system to Huawei.

Xi’s visit marks the 55th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China. “China and France were the first to transcend the barriers of the Cold War to make a historic handshake,” Xi wrote in an open letter published by Le Figaro. He praised France’s “spirit of independence” in defying the US to recognise China, and said China and France must now oppose “the return of protectionism and unilateralism,” a reference to China’s trade war with Trump.

Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan dined with Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron en tête-à-tête at the Villa Kérylos at Beaulieu-sur-Mer on Sunday night. The villa is a replica of an ancient Greek mansion, built by the archeologist Théodore Reinach at the beginning of the 20th century. Macron says China and France are two great civilisations, and the choice of venue was intended to emphasise the Greek origins of European civilisation.

Sinister history

No one mentioned the more sinister recent history of the Villa Kérylos. During the second World War, the Villa was seized by the Nazis. Reinach’s son Léon, his wife Béatrice de Camondo and their two children were taken to Auschwitz to be murdered.

During his visit to China last year, Macron refused to address that country’s abysmal human rights record in public, but said he would do so in private. In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche, the Chinese writer and dissident Liao Yiwu, who now lives in Berlin, recounted “four years locked up, broken, tortured, simply for having written a poem about the Tiananmen massacre.”

Liao said he used to believe that France was “the hope of mankind . . . And then I got out of China and I have been disappointed ever since.”

Nuclear power is also an integral part of the Franco-Chinese trade relationship

Reporters Without Borders will on Monday publish a report on Chinese violations of freedom of the press. The group ranked China 176th out of 180th in press freedom last year.

Signing ceremony

Macron and Xi will resume their talks at the Élysée Palace on Monday afternoon, followed by a signing ceremony and statements to the press. “There will be contracts. We are finalising negotiations,” said an adviser to Macron. The French recently said they had received “positive signs” regarding a Chinese order of 184 Airbuses.

Nuclear power is also an integral part of the Franco-Chinese trade relationship. In December, the first French-built EPR pressurised water reactor came online in Taishan, China. France and China launched a satellite together last autumn. The promotion of agricultural exports to China is another priority for the French, who are delighted that Beijing has lifted its embargo on French beef.

Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan will be guests of honour at a state dinner at the Élysée on Monday evening.

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