French president Macron to visit China from April 5-7: Chinese foreign ministry

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French President Emmanuel Macron will visit China from April 5 to 7, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday.

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The foreign ministry said that President Xi Jinping plans to hold talks with Macron to chart a course for bilateral relations, deepen cooperation and share views on major issues.

The ministry also announced that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will visit the country from April 5 to 7.

When Macron meets with Xi Jinping in Beijing this week, he willl try to convince his Chinese counterpart to change his stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine while also clarifying a delicate trade relationship that’s become increasingly contentious.

China, whose neutral stance has boosted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war, is the only country that can be a game changer in the conflict given its influence on Moscow, according to a senior French official. Whatever China does from here could have a dramatic impact on the conflict.

Xi used a two-day visit to Moscow last month to underscore his warm ties with Putin, while the Russian leader praised China’s 12-point blueprint for ending the conflict. European countries have mostly dismissed the proposal, but France sees room for China to extend a dialog with Kyiv, said the official, who asked not to be identified as is the policy of the office of the president.

The French leader’s visit comes after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez made separate trips to China to meet with Xi. Macron will be traveling with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, underscoring a message of European unity while also hinting at a trade discussion that could distinguish France’s approach to geopolitics from that of the US.

While Washington has taken a hawkish stance on relations with China — with the two countries clashing over everything from trade to technology to the South China Sea — France has no intention to de-couple from China, the official said.

The trip will also offer a respite to Macron from his domestic problems. Violence is on the rise in France over the president’s decision to circumvent the traditional legislative process and push through a reform of the country’s pension system, leading to mass strikes.

While the main issue of discussion would be Ukraine, there will be other topics of discussion.

Ukraine

Macron doesn’t expect China to drop its close partnership with Russia, but he does see room for potentially significant moves from Beijing, according to the official. France would consider it an achievement if Xi called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyiy to engage in a longer-term dialog.

Macron will also try and find common ground with Xi to look for solutions that will benefit the Ukrainian people, the official said.

The French leader plans to firmly warn China against providing military support to Russia.

Trade tensions

Von der Leyen outlined the European Union’s policy objections regarding China last week, when she mentioned plans to counter Beijing’s coercive practices and create a new instrument to control European investments abroad in critical sectors. This hard line underscores the delicate balance she and Macron will attempt to strike, as she also said: “We need to focus on de-risking, not de-coupling.

“We must leave space for a discussion on a more ambitious partnership and on how we can make competition fairer and more disciplined,” von der Leyen said in the March 30 speech.

China is Europe’s second-largest trade and investment partner and the two economies exchanged €795 billion ($862 billion) in goods and services in 2021, according to EU trade data. Europe imports more goods from China than any other nation, and China’s massive 1.4 billion consumer marketplace remains a critical destination for European exports of cars, pharmaceuticals and machinery.

Deals and aviation

A delegation of some 60 executives from large and small French companies will also travel with Macron, including from electricity utility Electricite de France SA, train-maker Alstom SA and waste and water management company Veolia Environnement SA, as well as European plane-maker Airbus SE.

In 2019, the previous time Macron traveled to China, he clinched some €30 billion worth of contracts for Airbus. Negotiations are ongoing for new plane orders, according to the official, who added that any new announcement wouldn’t just repackage previous deals, a common practice during state visits.

Human rights

Macron is also planning to discuss the situation in Xinjiang and the freedom of press in China, said the official.

“We must speak to China and tell them clearly that we don’t want a Chinese version of human rights,” former French ambassador to China Jean-Maurice Ripert said. The EU has adopted some sanctions on China for human rights violations on the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, to which China had responded with its own sanctions.

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