Macron meets China’s Li as EU leaders begin Beijing talks
French President Emmanuel Macron began a series of meetings with Chinese leaders in Beijing on Thursday (April 6) on a visit with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen that could set a course for the bloc’s future relations with China after years of strained ties.
Newly-appointed Premier Li Qiang greeted Macron at the Great Hall of the People, a cavernous building west of Tiananmen Square commonly used for ceremonial events, ahead of a summit with President Xi Jinping due later in the day.
After his arrival late Wednesday, Macron said Europe must resist reducing trade and diplomatic ties with Beijing, which is at odds with the West over issues including Taiwan, sensitive technologies and China’s close ties with Russia.
European Commission President von der Leyen, on her first visit to China since taking office in 2019, has said Europe must “de-risk” its relations with Beijing, as China had shifted from an era of reform and opening to one of security and control.
During her tenure, Europe’s relations with China have soured, mainly because of tit-for-tat sanctions that stalled an investment pact in 2021 and Beijing’s refusal to condemn Russia over its invasion of Ukraine that has claimed thousands of lives since it started last year.
But emerging from years of sparse diplomatic activity as pandemic border controls largely shut the country off from the rest of the world, China is eager to ensure Europe does not follow what it sees as U.S.-led efforts to contain its rise.
For Macron’s visit at least, there are high expectations in Beijing.
“Macron’s visit is expected to produce concrete results in furthering economic and trade cooperation between China and France, as well as to increase political mutual trust,” state media outlet Global Times wrote in an editorial on Thursday.
“It is worth noting that various forces in Europe and the U.S. are paying close attention to Macron’s visit and exerting influence in different directions,” the Global Times wrote. “In other words, not everyone wants to see Macron’s visit to China go smoothly and successfully.”
‘Good cop, bad cop’
Following Macron’s talks with Li, the Chinese premier is due to host a “working lunch” with von der Leyen. Later in the afternoon, Macron and von der Leyen will separately hold talks with Xi before all three hold trilateral talks in the evening.
Both Macron and von der Leyen have said they want to persuade China to use its influence over Russia to bring peace in Ukraine, or at least deter Beijing from directly supporting Moscow in the conflict. Russia calls the invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation”.
Some analysts have suggested the duo may adopt a “good cop, bad cop” role with the convivial Macron promoting a “reset” in China-EU ties and von der Leyen pressing home the thornier issues and red lines in those relations.
“China is a crucial trade partner but EU businesses face many discriminatory hurdles,” von der Leyen tweeted on Thursday morning after meeting representatives of the European Chamber of Commerce in Beijing.
“EU-China relations are extensive and complex. How we manage them will impact EU prosperity and security. I’m in Beijing to discuss this relationship – and its future,” von der Leyen said in an earlier tweet on Thursday.
Macron, travelling with a 50-strong business delegation including Airbus, luxury giant LVMH and nuclear energy producer EDF, is also expected to announce deals with China.
But not everyone back home thinks that is a good signal to send.
“Three-quarters of the delegation are business leaders: the goal is first and foremost to sign contracts,” Raphael Glucksmann, a left-wing member of the European parliament, wrote on Twitter ahead of Macron’s visit. “At a time the debate in Europe focuses on our suicidal dependency on China and Chinese interference, the message is inopportune.”