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

French President Emmanuel Macron urged Xi Jinping on Monday to work closely with Europe in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to adopt fair global economic norms as the Chinese leader began an official visit to France.

Xi’s first visit to Europe since 2019 will include talks in Serbia and Hungary. Xi has stated that he wishes to see peace in Ukraine, but observers do not foresee significant changes in Chinese policy.

However, his pick of France as the only major European power on his itinerary demonstrates the importance the leader of the one-party Communist state of more than 1.4 billion people places on Macron as an EU powerbroker more than two years after Russia’s invasion began.

Opening an inaugural trilateral meeting attended by European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen, Macron stated that coordination with Beijing on “major crises” such as Ukraine was “absolutely decisive” and demanded “fair rules for all” in Europe-China trade relations.

“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 stated that she will advocate for “fair” competition with China in global trade, adding that in prior discussions with Xi, she “made clear that the current imbalances in market access are not sustainable and must 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’

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)

Macron’s top objective will be to warn Xi about the dangers of supporting Russia, with Western diplomats fearful that Moscow is already exploiting Chinese machine tools in armaments manufacture.

Beijing’s relations with Moscow have, if anything, improved since the invasion, and the West wants China to avoid supplying weapons to Russia and perhaps tipping the balance in the battle.

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

Macron, like von der Leyen, stated in the same interview that trade was a priority in the negotiations, emphasizing the importance of Europe defending its “strategic interests” in its economic relations with Beijing.

Following his 2023 visit, the French president pleased Chinese state media while troubling some EU partners by proclaiming that Europe should not be forced into a “bloc versus bloc” showdown between China and the United States, notably over democratic, self-ruled Taiwan.

China considers the island to be part of its territory and has pledged to seize it one day, using force if necessary.

 ‘One of the great predators’ 

Rights groups are pressing Macron to bring up human rights during the discussions, accusing China of failing to respect the rights of the Uyghur Muslim minority and detaining hundreds of journalists.

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

Reporters Without Borders condemned the visit, placing a truck in central Paris with the names of 119 journalists detained by China and branding Xi as “one of the great predators of press freedom”.

Macron will accompany Xi, along by his wife Peng Liyuan, to the Pyrenees mountains, where he used to travel as a youngster, for a day of less public and more intimate talks on Tuesday.

Analysts, however, doubt that Macron will be able to have much influence over the Chinese leader, despite the elaborate red-carpet greeting and a journey to the invigorating mountain air of the Col du Tourmalet over 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) above sea level on Tuesday.

Serbia and Hungary, the other two nations Xi chose for his tour, are regarded as some of Europe’s most pro-Moscow.

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

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