Xi Jinping’s grand welcome for Emmanuel Macron was viewed as China’s attempt to counter the US influence in the EU.
PARIS/BEIJING – China’s President, Xi Jinping, gave French President Emmanuel Macron a grand welcome during his recent state visit, which is being viewed by analysts as China’s attempt to woo key allies within the European Union to counter the United States. The two leaders travelled together to southern China, where they visited Guangzhou, the capital of the Guangdong province, which is known for its economic and manufacturing prowess. Diplomats say that such a rare visit by Xi highlights the importance that Beijing attaches to its relationship with France, a key member of the EU, as it looks for support against the US.
China is eager to work with mid to large powers like France to counter the “all-round containment, encirclement, and suppression” by the US, said Zhao Suisheng, a professor of China studies and foreign policy at the University of Denver. Analysts believe that Macron is Beijing’s most important partner in Europe and an important driver of key policies within the EU.
However, Macron, along with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, failed to shift any public positions from Xi, despite pressuring China on Ukraine. Von der Leyen described China as “repressive” in a critical speech before her trip and was not invited to some state functions with Xi and Macron.
China’s Charms On France
Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a former French prime minister who has travelled extensively to China, said that Xi’s charm has had an effect. “Isn’t diplomacy, at one point or another, a bit of flattery? There’s always a bit of that in human relations. Each side plays with that,” he said.
China’s state-backed Global Times newspaper said that being a strategic vassal of Washington is a dead-end and making the China-France relationship a bridge for China-Europe cooperation is beneficial to both sides and the world.
However, China’s diplomatic engagement with France is viewed with scepticism in Washington. People familiar with the US government’s thinking say that beyond Ukraine, a realignment that draws China closer to Europe economically as relations with the US fray is unlikely at this point.
Xi’s wooing of Macron is part of a flurry of diplomatic moves by China this year as it attempts to wriggle out of containment by the US amid differences over Taiwan, the Ukraine war, and US-led restrictions on technology exports. China upped its diplomatic spending by 12.2 per cent this year, and leaders and senior officials from Singapore, Malaysia, Spain, and Japan have visited China over the past few weeks.
In March, China helped broker a surprise detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran, casting itself as a Middle East peacemaker motivated by its desire to shape a multi-polar world. China-EU engagement will continue in the coming weeks with foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and Germany’s foreign minister due in Beijing.
“China and Europe can still be partners,” said Wang Yiwei, director of the Center for European Studies at Renmin University in Beijing. “Rather than systemic rivals or competitors.”
China’s lavish welcome to French President Emmanuel Macron during his state visit is viewed by analysts as an attempt to woo key allies within the European Union to counter the United States. Macron’s visit to China with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen failed to shift any public positions from Xi, but China’s wooing of Macron is part of a flurry of diplomatic moves this year as it attempts to wriggle out of containment by the US amid differences over Taiwan, the Ukraine war, and US-led restrictions on technology exports. – Reuters