PARIS: President Xi Jinping lauded China’s ties with France as an international model on Sunday as he arrived in Paris for a rare visit against a backdrop of mounting trade disputes with the EU.

French President Emmanuel Macron is set to urge Xi to reduce trade imbalances and to use his influence with Russia over the war in Ukraine. China’s President is due to meet Macron and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Monday.

Xi, who was welcomed in Paris by Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, said in a statement released on his arrival that ties between China and France were “a model for the international community of peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation between countries with different social systems”.

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

“We want to obtain reciprocity of exchanges and have the elements of our economic security taken into account,” Macron said in an interview with French newspaper La Tribune, ahead of Xi’s two-day visit, his first trip to the region in five years.

The EU’s 27 members — in particular France and Germany — are divided on their attitude towards China.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will not join Macron and Xi in Paris due to prior commitments, sources said. “In Europe, we are not unanimous on the subject because certain players still see China as essentially a market of opportunities,” Macron said, without naming any countries.

These divisions could undermine the EU’s ability to influence the Asian giant.

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.

France has been keen to nudge China into pressuring Moscow to halt operations in Ukraine.

Macron will take Xi to the Pyrenees, a mountainous region dear to the French President as the birthplace of his maternal grandmother, on Tuesday before Xi heads to Russia-friendly Serbia and Hungary.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2024

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