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MONACO: Prince Albert II of Monaco and Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) inspect an honour guard.—Reuters
MONACO: Prince Albert II of Monaco and Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) inspect an honour guard.—Reuters

MONACO: Chinese Pres­ident Xi Jinping visited Monaco on the French Riviera on Sunday seeking to press ambitious commercial goals ahead of talks with France’s Emmanuel Macron who is trying to forge a united European front to contend with Beijing’s advances.

Xi arrived at the airport of the resort city of Nice accompanied by his wife Peng Liyuan to be welcomed by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and a guard of honour.

Prior to meeting with Macron, Xi went to the nearby principality of Mon­aco, where he was received by Prince Albert II and where a government spokesman said bilateral talks would “address economic and environmental issues”.

Xi, who has made establishing China as a global player central to his government, travelled from Italy, whose government became the first G7 state to sign up to his landmark new “Silk Road” infrastructure project, a massive undertaking to join Asia to Europe. Washington and some EU states fear the huge project will give China too much sway. But Xi says it would be a two-way street of investment and trade.

Germany criticised Rome over its participation in the new Silk Road project. “In a world with giants like China, Russia or our partners in the United States, we can only survive if we are united as the EU. And if some countries believe that they can do clever business with the Chinese, then they will be surprised when they wake up and find themselves dependant,” Foreign Min­ister Heiko Maas told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

Xi’s official visit to Paris on Monday will mark 55 years since Charles de Gaulle established diplomatic relations with Beijing. A series of cooperation deals on nuclear power, aerospace and clean energy initiatives, some involving lucrative contracts, are expected to be signed.

On Tuesday, Macron and Xi will be joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker to explore “points of convergence” ahead of an EU-China summit in Bruss­els next month.

China as EU ‘rival’

But Xi’s visit poses a particular challenge for Mac­ron, who wants to deepen EU ties with China while also pushing back against Beijing’s growing global clout.

Europe’s distrust of Chin­ese telecom giant Huawei, which is poised to become the dominant player in next-generation 5G mobile technology worldwide, is emble­matic of the increasingly rocky relationship.

Monaco, which notably is eyeing a share of Chinese luxury tourism and has its own foreign policy, only last year signed an accord with Huawei to make the principality the first country entirely covered by the company’s 5G mobile network by year end.

Macron has lauded the EU’s “awakening” to the cha­l­l­enges posed by China, which the bloc now labels a “rival” despite being Eur­ope’s biggest trading partner.

“The reality is that the world has changed significantly — China is not the country it once was, and we are dealing with a very major partner,” a Macron aide said ahead of Xi’s visit.

The US is pressuring Eur­o­pean allies to not use the Huawei technology, saying it creates a security risk by potentially letting Beijing snoop on sensitive communications.

Despite the many sources of friction, France wants to engage China as a closer partner as Washington mak­es a pointed withdrawal from global affairs under Trump’s “America First” policy.

For example, Macron may seek more Chinese support of the French-backed G5 Sahel force fighting Islamist extre­m­ists in Western Africa.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2019