The French president, Emmanuel Macron, will make his first official visit to China on Monday for talks aimed at boosting the global influence of both countries and forging closer ties with the European Union.
The three-day visit, the first by the leader of an EU nation since Xi Jinping secured his grip on power at the Communist party congress in October, comes after Macron called for a stronger Europe to “face China and the United States” in his new year message.
Beijing and Paris are both painting Macron’s visit as a chance to transform bilateral ties and establish a stronger partnership between China and the EU.
Xi will be hoping for French – and by extension EU – approval for his expansionist Belt and Road initiative and a tacit nod to China’s ambitions to establish itself as an alternative to the US in a new world order.
Macron is seeking to expand his – and by extension France’s – international influence in the vacuum created by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.
Tellingly, Beijing will host Macron before Theresa May, who is expected to visit China at the end of January, having repeatedly delayed a trip pencilled in for last summer.
Before the Brexit vote in the UK, Beijing had groomed London as a key ally within the EU and touted a “golden era” of UK-China ties. Its focus has since moved to the French capital.
Barthélémy Courmont, a senior research fellow at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, and a specialist in Chinese politics, said Beijing now saw Macron as its conduit to Europe.
“It is clear in Chinese minds that France represents Europe politically,” Courmont said. “China considers Germany an economic partner in Europe, and France a defence and diplomatic partner. Before [Brexit] China considered Britain its main interlocutor in Europe, but now the UK is of less interest.” Read More …