Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) yesterday headed to the French Riviera for the final leg of his European tour, as French President Emmanuel Macron looks to forge a united European front to contend with China’s global ambitions.
Xi’s French visit began in Mediterranean city of Nice and was to include a stop in the nearby principality of Monaco before face-to-face talks with Macron.
The two leaders are scheduled to head to Paris today for the official state visit. A series of cooperation deals on nuclear power, aerospace and clean energy initiatives, some involving lucrative contracts, are expected to be signed.
However, Xi’s visit poses a particular challenge for Macron, who wants to deepen EU ties with China while also pushing back against Beijing’s growing clout.
“We have a lot to do together in terms of climate action, in terms of multilateralism, but we also have to defend our own interests,” Macron said in Brussels on Thursday.
He has lauded the EU’s “awakening” to the challenges posed by China, which the bloc now labels a “rival” despite becoming Europe’s biggest trading partner.
“The reality is that the world has changed significantly — China is not the country it once was, and we are dealing with a very major partner,” a Macron aide said.
Macron and Xi are to be joined tomorrow by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to explore “points of convergence” ahead of an EU-China summit in Brussels next month.
Xi arrived in France from Italy, which has angered its EU partners by formally joining Xi’s Belt and Road initiative for a string of maritime, rail and road connections aiming at expanding Chinese trade.
Italy on Saturday signed a “non-binding” protocol with China to take part in Beijing’s new “Silk Road” of transport and trade links stretching from Asia to Europe.
In doing so, Italy became the first G7 country to sign up for the massive project, which has sparked unease in the US and the EU.
Xi and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte attended a ceremony for the signing of 29 memorandums of understanding, which Italian media said were worth 5 billion to 7 billion euros (US$5.6 billion to US$8 billion).
Also signing the accords were Chinese National Development Commission Chairman He Lifeng (何立峰) and Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, who also holds the economic development portfolio.
In what some perceived as a snub, Italy’s far-right Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini did not attend Friday’s state dinner for Xi at Mattarella’s Quirinal Palace, having stated that Italy would be “no one’s colony.”
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