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Macron to take French business leaders to China next week, despite EU calls to ‘de-risk’ ties


Nov 4, 2011
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Macron to take French business leaders to China next week, despite EU calls to ‘de-risk’ ties​

  • French President Emmanuel Macron hopes to strengthen economic and cultural ties with Beijing
  • Several meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping are planned; one will include European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

Finbarr Bermingham in Brussels

Published: 3:30am, 1 Apr, 2023


French President Emmanuel Macron will lead a delegation to China next week that will include business representatives in a trip to strengthen economic ties to Beijing. Photo: EPA-EFE

French President Emmanuel Macron will take a gaggle of business executives to China next week, despite European Union advice to “de-risk” Europe’s economic ties to Beijing.

Airbus and Alstom officials will be among those on the trip, according to Élysée sources, along with a large group of artists and filmmakers, as Macron looks to solidify business and cultural ties with the world’s second-largest economy.

Macron, who plans to fly from protest-riven Paris on Tuesday, is to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang on Wednesday.

Later that evening, following a sit-down with French companies, he will attend a state dinner, followed by a trilateral summit with Xi and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

From there he is to travel to Guangdong, where he will hold a question-and-answer session with students on Friday, followed by a more “informal” dinner with Xi.

Macron’s agenda will include trying to enlist Chinese support to end the war in Ukraine. He believes Beijing can be a “game-changer”, should it decide to leverage its close relationship with Russia, officials said.

Additionally, Macron will look to promote commercial ties with Beijing, responding to Washington’s new package of domestic subsidies, which Paris fears will lure European businesses across the Atlantic.

The French government has “no intention” of decoupling from China, the officials said, even while supporting trade defence measures the EU is drawing up to deal with Beijing’s economic behaviour.

Macron’s trip mirrors one German Chancellor Olaf Scholz took to Beijing last year, also with a host of business executives – a move widely criticised by other EU members.

Even so, Macron’s plan appears to clash with a tough-talking speech by von der Leyen in Brussels on Thursday, in which she established herself as one of Europe’s most hawkish leaders on China.


Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomes German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Beijing on November 4, 2022. Photo: EPA-EFE

Analysts said that the odd-couple dynamic at the meeting with Xi could see von der Leyen play the “bad cop” to Macron’s “good cop”.

“Even if Macron disagrees with the clarity of this message, it will put some limitations on what he can do and say when travelling to Beijing with her – or he would risk undercutting his own message of European unity,” said Janka Oertel, director of the Asia programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

On Thursday, von der Leyen accused China of pursuing a “systemic change of the international order” with Beijing at its centre.

In response, she said, the EU needed to “de-risk” its economic ties and to do so, the commission would propose a new “economic security strategy later this year”.

As part of this, it will look into restricting European companies’ investments in China in sensitive sectors like robotics, quantum computing and artificial intelligence – a task some officials believe will be incredibly complex to administer.

Von der Leyen also said that the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, the stalled investment pact between the European Union and China, was now outdated, suggesting that any measures to revive it would be unsuccessful.

In Brussels on Friday, many officials and diplomats were impressed by von der Leyen’s address, which was broadly regarded as “moving the needle” on how the EU’s China policy is discussed at the top level.
However, scepticism was also widespread about her ability to get member states to agree with a more confrontational approach to Beijing.

On the same day as von der Leyen’s address, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez spoke at the Boao Forum in Hainan and espoused a more dovish view on ties with China.

“I firmly believe that relations between Europe and China -and, by extension, between Spain and China – do not have to be confrontational. There is a wide scope for mutually beneficial cooperation. We must remain partners, financially and beyond,” Sanchez said.

One senior official noted the small levels of trade between Spain and China, saying that if von der Leyen “can’t even get the Spanish on board, what hope is there with France and Germany?”
The Chinese ambassador to the EU, Fu Cong, said he was “a little disappointed” with von der Leyen’s speech.

“Whoever wrote that speech for President von der Leyen does not really understand China,” he told CGTN, adding that it “contained a lot of misrepresentation and misinterpretation of Chinese policies”.
A senior Western European diplomat said von der Leyen would provide some balance to the French President’s “usual rhetoric about there being ‘no way around China’”.

The diplomat did not expect Macron to be too critical of China while in the country.
“Just like with Putin, he enjoys being seen as a peer of the great world leaders and struggles to be too critical for that reason, so I’m sure he’ll mention human rights and other issues, but not in words that would offend Xi,” the diplomat said.
Oertel said that von der Leyen’s “de-risking approach” would “become harder and more costly the longer it takes to align policy with words”.
“The current spate of visits is the embodiment of this – they could be missions to make clear demands, lay down red lines, operationalise the changed economic thinking,” she said.
“But the messaging remains murky.”


Spanish premier’s visit to Beijing brings Spain closer to China, but not on Ukraine​

Pedro Sanchez reiterates support for Ukraine’s proposed peace plan​

Alyssa Mcmurtry |31.03.2023 - Update : 31.03.2023

Spanish premier’s visit to Beijing brings Spain closer to China, but not on Ukraine

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Friday said that his official visit to China allowed him to deepen bilateral ties and encourage China to back Ukraine against Russia’s “illegal aggression.”

In his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Sanchez said he shared Spain’s support for Ukraine’s peace plan — not China’s — and encouraged the Chinese leader to talk to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“There are those who assume that the 21st century will be fragmented, divided and marked by conflict. We don’t think that will benefit anyone,” said Sanchez. “So instead of protectionism, Spain will always defend opening to partners.”

“The future can be one of international prosperity and cooperation, and I think this visit to China is helping us build that,” he continued.

When asked by reporters to share Xi’s position on Ukraine, Sanchez refused to offer any details.

The Spanish prime minister also held separate meetings with Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang and top legislator Zhao Leji on Friday.

As a result, Spain and China decided to restart the high-level dialogue that began in 2018, expand the Spanish Embassy in Beijing and restart the commission for industrial cooperation.

“Spain wants a balanced and respectful relationship based on reciprocity that will benefit us both,” Sanchez said.

In line with correcting the massive trade imbalance between China and Spain, he announced that Beijing has approved imports of almonds and persimmons from Spain.
According to Sanchez, that will mean by 2025, 40% of Spain’s almond production will be exported to China.

The Spanish prime minister encouraged Chinese authorities for more similar approvals and to make it easier for Spanish companies to do business in China.

Meanwhile, the countries agreed that Spain will open a new Cervantes Institute in Shanghai, making it “the first country with more than one official cultural center in China,” said Sanchez.

Tourism was another subject of discussion, and the Spanish prime minister announced that a China-Spain tourism forum would be held in June.

Sanchez said he also discussed Spain taking over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU in July.

In that role, Sanchez said Spain will try to bring the EU and China together on questions like human rights and improve symmetrical trade relations.
“The relationship between the EU and China is complicated. It’s also very important,” he said.


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