President Xi Jinping arrived at the airport of the resort city of Nice accompanied by his wife Peng Liyuan to be welcomed by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and a Guard of Honour.
Prior to meeting with Macron, Xi went to the nearby principality of Monaco, where he was received by Prince Albert II and where a government spokesman said bilateral talks would “address economic and environmental issues”. President Xi travelled from Italy, who has became the first G7 State to sign up to his landmark “Belt & Road Initiative” infrastructure Project, a massive undertaking to join Asia to Europe.
Washington and some EU states fear the huge project will give China too much sway. But President Xi says it would be a two-way street of investment and trade. Germany criticised Rome over its participation in the new Silk Road project.
“In a world with giants like China, Russia or our partners in the United States, we can only survive if we are united as the EU. And if some countries believe that they can do clever business with the Chinese, then they will be surprised when they wake up and find themselves dependent,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. The EU’s German budget commissioner, Günther Oettinger expressed concern that already;
“infrastructure of strategic importance … is no longer in European but in Chinese hands.”
French Finance Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had remarked Friday that “Silk
Road cooperation had to go “in both directions.” President Xi along with his wife joined President Macron and his wife for a Private Dinner, during which they would have what a Chinese Official termed “deep exchange of views on Sino-French, Sino-European relations and international and issues of mutual interest.”
President Xi’s official visit to Paris on Monday will mark 55 years since Charles de Gaulle established diplomatic relations with Beijing.
A series of cooperation deals on nuclear power, aerospace and clean energy initiatives, some involving lucrative contracts, are expected to be signed.
On Tuesday, President Macron and President Xi will be joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker to explore “points of convergence” ahead of an EU-China summit in Brussels next month.
As well as addressing commercial cooperation and strategic issues with President Xi, President Macron has also been urged to deal with the case of Chinese Former Interpol Head Meng Hongwei.
Meng’s wife has had no news of her husband since his arrest in China nearly six months ago and it emerged Sunday she has written to President Marcon asking him to bring up his disappearance with President Xi. He is believed to be facing corruption charges.
But President Xi’s visit poses a particular challenge for President Macron, who wants to deepen EU ties with China while also pushing back against Beijing’s growing global clout.
Europe’s distrust of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, which is poised to become the dominant player in next-generation 5G mobile technology worldwide, is emblematic of the increasingly rocky relationship.
Monaco, which notably is eyeing a share of Chinese luxury tourism and has its own foreign policy, only last year signed an accord with Huawei to make the principality the first country entirely covered by the company’s 5G mobile network by year end.
President Macron has lauded the EU’s “awakening” to the challenges posed by China, which the bloc now labels a “rival” despite being 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 President Macron aide said ahead of President Xi’s visit.
The US is pressuring European allies to not use the Huawei technology, saying it creates a security risk by potentially letting Beijing snoop on sensitive communications.
But France has not ruled out using Huawei Gear.
Beijing has accused Washington of trying to escalate President Donald Trump’s trade battle with China.
Despite the many sources of friction, France wants to engage China as a closer partner as Washington makes a pointed withdrawal from global affairs under Trump’s “America First” policy.
For example, President Macron may seek more Chinese support of the French-backed 5G Sahel force fighting Islamist extremists in Western Africa.
China has been investing heavily in a diplomatic offensive across Africa, promising to help build infrastructure projects as part of the new Silk Road initiative.
Aides say President Macron will press President Xi to ensure such projects are fair and explore the participation of French companies amid allegations the deals could load African countries with unsustainable debt.