Macron Presses China’s Xi On Ukraine, Trade At Paris Summit

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.

 France’s President Emmanuel Macron (L) greets Chinese President Xi Jinping at The Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris on May 6, 2024. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / 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.

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‘Get China to weigh in’

France’s President Emmanuel Macron (L) shows the way as Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as they leave after holding a trilateral meeting as part of the Chinese president’s two-day state visit, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on May 6, 2024.  (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)


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’ 

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 to 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 (6,560 feet) 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.