France, 6 May, 2024  Xi Jinping hailed the strong bond between China and France as he landed in Paris against a backdrop of escalating trade disputes between the EU, Ukraine, and China. The visit marks his first to the EU in half a decade, with the focus on meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Macron, in anticipation of the visit, stressed the need for an overhaul in relations, citing China’s burgeoning surplus in various sectors and its significant exports to Europe. The EU’s scrutiny intensified in September 2023, with an investigation launched into potentially unfair advantages enjoyed by Chinese electric vehicle (EV) imports due to state subsidies.

Von der Leyen underscored the EU’s discontent, highlighting China’s alleged manufacturing practices supported by subsidies, which she argued could jeopardize European industries and employment, particularly in sectors like the automotive industry in Germany. Macron aims to dissuade retaliatory measures from China, possibly targeting French goods such as cognac and agricultural products.

Moreover, concerns persist within the EU regarding the circumvention of sanctions on exports to Russia through Chinese intermediaries. Xi’s arrival was met with diplomatic pleasantries, with him emphasizing the exemplary nature of Sino-French relations and China’s commitment to global cooperation and stability.

In an op-ed published in a French daily, Xi outlined three key messages: China’s dedication to strengthening ties with France, its openness to the world, and its role in fostering global peace. On the Ukrainian crisis, he reiterated China’s stance of non-interference while advocating for a peaceful resolution.

Xi’s European tour, spanning six days, includes visits to Serbia and Hungary, the latter aspiring to become a hub for Chinese EV manufacturing. Macron’s agenda includes cautioning Xi against supporting Russia in the Ukraine conflict, with concerns over the potential use of Chinese machinery in Russian arms production.

The EU, particularly France and Germany, remains divided on its approach to China, with Macron emphasizing the need for a unified stance. France also seeks to address market access for its agricultural exports and resolve intellectual property issues in its cosmetic industry.

While China may announce a sizable aircraft order during Xi’s visit, uncertainties loom over the specifics of the deal. Macron plans to accompany Xi to the Pyrenees before the Chinese leader proceeds to Serbia and Hungary.