Macron puts trade and Ukraine as top priorities as China’s Xi opens European visit in France

Macron puts trade and Ukraine as top priorities as China’s Xi opens European visit in France

PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron put trade disputes and Ukraine-related diplomatic efforts on top of the agenda for talks Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who arrived in France for a two-day state visit opening his European tour.

In Paris, Xi first joined a meeting with Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen meant to address broader European Union concerns. The discussions will be closely watched from Washington, a month before President Joe Biden is expected to pay his own state visit to France.

In his introductory remarks, Macron said the meeting would address trade issues and how to ensure “fair competition,” then the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East. France seeks to convince China to use its influence to move Russia toward ending the war in Ukraine.

“We are at a turning point in our history” as the Europe-China relationship faces challenges, Macron said, adding that “the future of our continent will very clearly also depend on our ability to develop balanced relations with China.”

At the start of the meeting, Xi said “the world today has entered a new period of turbulence and change,” adding that “as two important forces in the world, China and Europe should … continuously make new contributions to world peace and development.”

Xi’s European trip, the first in five years, seeks to rebuild relations at a time of global tensions. After France on Monday and Tuesday, he will head to Serbia and Hungary.

Macron, a strong advocate of Europe’s economic sovereignty, raised French concerns about a Chinese anti-dumping investigation into cognac and other European brandy, and tensions over French cosmetics and other sectors. He recently denounced trade practices of China and the United States as shoring up protections and subsidies.

The EU launched an investigation last year into Chinese subsidies and could impose tariffs on electric vehicles exported from China. The 27-member bloc last month opened another probe into Chinese wind turbine makers.

“For trade to be fair, access to both markets needs to be reciprocal,” von der Leyen said after the meeting. “Our market is and remains open to fair competition and to investments, but it is not good for Europe if it harms our security and makes us vulnerable.”

She said that Europe “will not waver from making tough decisions needed to protect its economy and its security.”

On Ukraine, von der Leyen urged Xi to stand by China’s commitment not to provide any lethal equipment to Russia. She said she encouraged him to exert more effort to curtail dual use goods to Russia that end up on the battlefield in Ukraine.

“Given the existential nature stemming from this threat for both Ukraine and Europe, this does affect the EU-China relations,” she said.

China claims neutrality in the Ukraine war. Last year, Macron appealed to Xi to “bring Russia to its senses,” but the call was not followed by any apparent action by Beijing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced plans to visit China this month.

As France prepares to host the Summer Olympics, Macron said he would ask Xi to use his influence to make the Games “a diplomatic moment of peace.”

“French authorities are pursuing two objectives that are ultimately contradictory,” said Marc Julienne, director of the Center for Asian Studies at the French Institute of International Relations. “In short, we think that Xi can help us, but at the same time we fear that he could help Putin.”

Xi’s visit marks the 60th anniversary of France-China diplomatic relations, and follows Macron’s trip to China in April 2023. Macron prompted controversy on that trip when he said France wouldn’t blindly follow the U.S. in getting involved in crises that are not its concern, apparently referring to China’s demands for unification with Taiwan.

Several groups — including International Campaign for Tibet and France’s Human Rights League — urged Macron to put human rights issues at the heart of his talks with Xi. Protesters demonstrated in Paris as Xi arrived on Sunday, calling for a free Tibet.

Amnesty International called on Macron to demand the release of Uyghur economics professor Ilham Tohti, who was jailed in China for life in 2014 on charges of promoting separatism, and other imprisoned activists.

On Monday, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders staged a protest in front of the Arc de Triomphe monument to denounce Xi’s visit, calling the Chinese president “one of the greatest predators of press freedom.” The group says 119 journalists are imprisoned in the country.

Macron said in an interview published Sunday that he will raise human rights concerns.

On Monday afternoon, a ceremony took place at the Invalides monument in the presence of both presidents’ wives, Peng Liyuan and Brigitte Macron. Macron and Xi also were to conclude a French-Chinese economic forum and join their wives for a state dinner.

The second day of the visit is meant to be more personal. Macron has invited Xi to visit the Tourmalet Pass in the Pyrenees mountains, where the French leader spent time as a child to see his grandmother. The trip is meant to be a reciprocal gesture after Xi took Macron last year to the residence of the governor of Guangdong province, where his father once lived.


Associated Press writers Barbara Surk in Nice, France; Angela Charlton in Paris and Stephen Graham in Berlin contributed to this story.

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