France's Macron set to press Xi on trade, Ukraine

By Reuters   May 4, 2024 | 08:18 pm PT
France's Macron set to press Xi on trade, Ukraine
French President Emmanuel Macron. Photo by AFP
China's President Xi Jinping heads to Paris on Sunday for a rare visit, with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron set to press him to reduce trade imbalances and try to convince him to use his influence on Russia over the war in Ukraine.

Neither aim will be easily fulfilled during Xi's two-day stay in France, where he arrives at a time of growing trade tensions between Europe and China.

France is backing a European Union probe into Chinese electric vehicle exports and in January Beijing opened an investigation into imports of brandy - which is mostly made in France - a move widely seen as tit-for-tat retaliation amid a growing set of EU probes.

"We must continue to push Chinese authorities to give us more guarantees on trade issues," an Elysee advisor said ahead of Xi's visit, his first trip to Europe in five years.

Xi was due to arrive at around 4 p.m. (1400 GMT). His official meetings will include joint talks with Macron and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

Divisions within European Union's 27 members - and in particular between France and Germany - undermine their ability to influence China. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will not join Macron and Xi in Paris due to prior commitments, sources said.

"Leverage flies out the window if European leaders are sending different messages to Xi," said Noah Barkin, a senior adviser at the Rhodium Group and close follower of EU-China relations.

France will also seek to make progress on opening the Chinese market to its agricultural exports and resolve issues around the French cosmetic industry's concerns about intellectual property rights, officials said.

Ukraine talks

France has been keen to nudge China into pressuring Moscow to halt operations in Ukraine, with little progress so far, apart from Xi's decision to call Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for the first time shortly after Macron visited Beijing last year.

"China being one of Russia's main partners, our objective is to use the leverages it has on Moscow to change Russia's calculations and help contribute to solving the conflict," the same Elysee adviser said.

A French diplomatic source said: "If the Chinese seek to deepen the relationship with European partners, it is really important that they hear our point of view and start taking it seriously."

On Tuesday, Macron will take Xi to the Pyrenees, mountains he holds especially dear as his maternal grandmother's birthplace.

The gesture is meant as an echo of Xi's decision to take Macron to share a tea ceremony in the former residence of Xi's father in the city of Guangzhou.

"Macron is always in charm mode, he is trying to get foreign leaders on side by establishing a personal rapport with them," Barkin said.

"But I hope that he isn't under any illusions that bringing Xi to a place that is important to him from his childhood is going to bring Xi to tears and lead to compromises from Beijing."

Xi will leave France on Tuesday afternoon to head to Russia-friendly Serbia and Hungary.

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