Macron presses China’s Xi on Ukraine, trade at Paris summit

Published May 6, 2024
France’s President Emmanuel Macron (R) greets Chinese President Xi Jinping at The Elysee Presidential Palace during his official visit to Paris on May 6. — AFP
France’s President Emmanuel Macron (R) greets Chinese President Xi Jinping at The Elysee Presidential Palace during his official visit to Paris on May 6. — AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday pressed Xi Jinping to coordinate closely with Europe in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and accept fair global trade rules as the Chinese leader began a state visit to France.

Xi’s first visit to Europe since 2019 will also see him hold talks in Serbia and Hungary. Xi has said he wants to find peace in Ukraine even if analysts do not expect major changes in Chinese policy.

But his choice of France as the sole major European power on his itinerary indicates the importance the leader of the one-party Communist state of more than 1.4 billion people accords to Macron as an EU powerbroker over two years into Russia’s invasion.

Opening an initial trilateral meeting attended by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, Macron said coordination with Beijing on “major crises” including Ukraine was “absolutely decisive” and urged “fair rules for all” in Europe-China trade.

“The future of our continent will very clearly depend on our ability to continue to develop relations with China in a balanced manner,” Macron said.

In an op-ed for Le Figaro daily, Xi said he wanted to work with the international community to find ways to resolve the conflict sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while emphasising that China was “neither a party nor a participant”.

“We hope that peace and stability will return quickly to Europe, and intend to work with France and the entire international community to find good paths to resolve the crisis,” he wrote.

Von der Leyen said she will press for “fair” competition with China in global trade, adding that in previous talks with Xi she had “made clear that the current imbalances in market access are not sustainable and need to be addressed”.

“We have been very clear-eyed about our relationship with China, which is one of the most complex, but also one of the most important,” she said.

‘Get China to weigh in’

A key priority of Macron will be to warn Xi of the danger of backing Russia, with Western officials concerned Moscow is already using Chinese machine tools in arms production.

Beijing’s ties with Moscow have, if anything, warmed after the invasion and the West wants China above all not to supply weapons to Russia and risk tipping the balance in the conflict.

“It is in our interest to get China to weigh in on the stability of the international order,” Macron said in an interview with The Economist published on Thursday.

Like von der Leyen, Macron also said in the same interview that trade was a priority in the talks, underscoring that Europe must defend its “strategic interests” in its economic relations with China.

The French president had gladdened Chinese state media and troubled some EU allies after his 2023 visit by declaring that Europe should not be drawn into a “bloc versus bloc” standoff between China and the United States, particularly over democratic, self-ruled Taiwan.

China views the island as part of its territory and has vowed to take it one day, by force if necessary.

‘One of the great predators’

 Protestors stand near a truck reading “119 journalists detained by the Chinese government… Welcome to France” during an action organised by Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) to protest against the visit of Chinese President in France, in front of The Arc de Triomphe, in Paris on May 6. — AFP
Protestors stand near a truck reading “119 journalists detained by the Chinese government… Welcome to France” during an action organised by Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) to protest against the visit of Chinese President in France, in front of The Arc de Triomphe, in Paris on May 6. — AFP

Rights groups are urging Macron to bring up human rights in the talks, accusing China of failing to respect the rights of the Uyghur Muslim minority and of keeping dozens of journalists behind bars.

“President Macron should make it clear to Xi Jinping that Beijing’s crimes against humanity come with consequences for China’s relations with France,” said Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch.

Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders denounced the visit, installing a truck in central Paris with the names of 119 journalists it says are held by China and describing Xi as “one of the great predators of press freedom”.

Tuesday will see Macron take Xi, who is accompanied by his wife Peng Liyuan, to the Pyrenees mountains — an area he used to visit as a boy for a day of less public and more intimate talks.

However, analysts are sceptical that Macron will be able to exercise much sway over the Chinese leader, even with the lavish red-carpet welcome and a trip to the bracing mountain air of the Col du Tourmalet over 2,000 metres above sea level on Tuesday.

The other two countries chosen by Xi for his tour, Serbia and Hungary, are seen as among the most sympathetic to Moscow in Europe.

Both Macron’s messages on trade and Ukraine “are unlikely to have a significant impact on Chinese behaviour,” said Janka Oertel, director of the Asia programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Opinion

Editorial

Misplaced priorities
Updated 19 Jul, 2024

Misplaced priorities

The government must call its APC at the earliest and invite all stakeholders to take part; this matter cannot be delayed further.
Oman terror attack
19 Jul, 2024

Oman terror attack

THE normally peaceful sultanate of Oman was shaken by sectarian terrorism on Monday when militants belonging to the...
Urban flooding
19 Jul, 2024

Urban flooding

THE provincial authorities have been taking precautionary measures, or so we have been told, to cope with emergency...
A way forward
Updated 17 Jul, 2024

A way forward

Before political leaders inflict more damage, they must give talks a chance.
Export delusions
Updated 18 Jul, 2024

Export delusions

Plummeting exports as a ratio of GDP is one of the major reasons driving the current economic slowdown and the balance-of-payments crisis.
Diversity in UK politics
17 Jul, 2024

Diversity in UK politics

THE recent UK elections have ushered in the most diverse parliament in the nation’s history. Under the leadership...