China's Xi Jinping visits France to talk trade, Ukraine amid EU concerns

China's Xi Jinping visits France to talk trade, Ukraine amid EU concerns

China's President Xi Jinping arrived at the French presidential palace on Monday for a two-day state visit that is expected to focus both on trade disputes and diplomatic efforts to convince Beijing to use its influence to move Russia toward ending the war in Ukraine.

In Paris, Xi first joined a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen meant to address broader EU concerns. Macron said in his introductory remarks the meeting would first address trade issues and how to ensure "fair competition," then the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

"We are at a turning point in our history" as the Europe-China relationship is faced with challenges, Macron said.


The talks are aimed at sharing "both our shared positions and our concerns, to try to overcome them, because the future of our continent will very clearly also depend on our ability to develop balanced relations with China," he said.

Macron, a strong advocate of Europe’s economic sovereignty, wants to raise French concerns about a Chinese antidumping investigation into cognac and other European brandy, and tensions over French cosmetics and other sectors.

In a recent speech, he denounced trade practices of both China and the United States as shoring up protections and subsidies.

At the start of the meeting in Paris, Xi said "the world today has entered a new period of turbulence and change."

"As two important forces in the world, China and Europe should ... continuously make new contributions to world peace and development," he said.

The EU launched an investigation last fall into Chinese subsidies and could impose tariffs on electric vehicles exported from China.

"The European Union and China want good relations," von der Leyen said. "We have a substantial EU-China economic relationship. ... But this relationship is also challenged, for example, through state-induced overcapacity, unequal market access and overdependencies."

Paris is the first stop on Xi's European trip, seeking to rebuild relations at a time of global tensions. After France on Monday and Tuesday, he will head to Serbia and Hungary.

France hopes the discussions will help convince China to use its leverage with Moscow to ‘’contribute to a resolution of the conflict" in Ukraine, according to a French presidential official. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced plans to visit China this month.

Macron will press Xi over supplies from Chinese companies supporting the Russian war effort despite EU sanctions, he said. China claims neutrality in the Ukraine conflict. France also wants China to maintain a dialogue with Kyiv, added the official, who was not authorized to be identified according to presidential policy.

Last year, Macron appealed to Xi to "bring Russia to its senses," but the call was not followed by any apparent action by Beijing.

"French authorities are pursuing two objectives that are ultimately contradictory," said Marc Julienne, director of the Center for Asian Studies at the French Institute of International Relations. "On the one hand, to convince Xi that it's in his interest to help Europeans to put pressure on Vladimir Putin to end the war and, on the other hand, to dissuade the Chinese president from delivering arms to his Russian friend."

"In short, we think that Xi can help us, but at the same time we fear that he could help Putin," Julienne wrote.

As France prepares to host the Summer Olympics, Macron said he would ask Xi to use his influence to make the Games "a diplomatic moment of peace."

The discussions will also be closely watched from Washington, a month before President Joe Biden is expected to pay his own state visit to France.

Xi's visit marks the 60th anniversary of France-China diplomatic relations, and follows Macron’s trip to China in April 2023. Macron prompted controversy on that trip after he said France wouldn’t blindly follow the U.S. in getting involved in crises that are not its concern, apparently referring to China’s demands for unification with Taiwan.

Several groups — including International Campaign for Tibet and France’s Human Rights League — urged Macron to put human rights issues at the heart of his talks with Xi. Protesters demonstrated in Paris as Xi arrived on Sunday, calling for a free Tibet.

Amnesty International called on Macron to demand the release of Uyghur economics professor Ilham Tohti, who was jailed in China for life in 2014 on charges of promoting separatism, and other imprisoned activists.

On Monday morning, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders staged a protest in front of the Arc de Triomphe monument to denounce Xi's visit, calling the Chinese president "one of the greatest predators of press freedom." The group says 119 journalists are imprisoned in the country.

Macron said in an interview published Sunday that he will raise human rights concerns.

Later on Monday, a formal ceremony is to take place at the Invalides monument before bilateral talks at the Elysee presidential palace. Macron and Xi will conclude a nearby French-Chinese economic forum and then join their wives for a state dinner.

The second day of the visit is meant to be a more personal moment.

Macron has invited Xi to visit the Tourmalet Pass in the Pyrenees mountains on Tuesday, where the French leader spent time as a child to see his grandmother. The trip is meant to be a reciprocal gesture after Xi took Macron last year to the residence of the governor of Guangdong province, where his father once lived.


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