Macron and von der Leyen try to sweet talk China


EU leader Ursula von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday for talks that could set a course for future relations after years of strained ties.

Macron, who arrived in Beijing late Wednesday, told reporters that Europe must resist cutting trade and diplomatic ties with Beijing, which is at odds with the West over issues such as Taiwan, sensitive technologies and China’s close ties with Russia.

Von der Leyen said ahead of her trip that Europe must “take its relations with Beijing out of harm’s way” as China has moved from an era of reform and opening up to an era of security and control.

Relations between Europe and China have soured in recent years, mainly due to an investment pact that stalled in 2021 and Beijing’s refusal to condemn Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

But after years of sparse diplomatic activity, when the country was largely cut off from the rest of the world by border controls, China is keen to ensure that Europe does not follow what it sees as attempts by the US to contain its rise.

Expectations are high for Macron’s visit to Beijing.

“It is expected that Macron’s visit will bring concrete results for the promotion of economic and commercial cooperation between China and France, and that mutual political trust will increase,” Global Times wrote in an editorial on Thursday.

“It is worth noting that various forces in Europe and the USA are closely monitoring 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.”

Macron will first meet newly appointed prime minister Li Qiang in the Great Hall of the people, before Li goes to a “working lunch” with von der Leyen, who is making her first trip to China since becoming president of the European Commission in late 2019.

Later in the afternoon, Macron and von der Leyen will hold separate talks with President Xi Jinping, before holding all three 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 to Ukraine, or at least dissuade Beijing from directly supporting Moscow in the conflict. Russia calls the invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation”.

Macron, who is travelling with a 50-strong business delegation including Airbus, luxury giant LVMH and nuclear power producer EDF, is also expected to announce deals with China.

But not everyone at home thinks that’s a good signal.

“Three quarters of the delegation consists of business leaders: the goal is first and foremost to sign contracts,” wrote The Left-wing MEP Raphael Glucksmann on Twitter in the run-up to Macron’s visit. “At a time when the debate in Europe is focused on our suicidal dependence on China and Chinese interference, the message is inappropriate.”