Macron and von der Leyen to talk Ukraine on China visit

French President Emmanuel Macron, accompanied by EU's Ursula von der Leyen, is traveling to China in hopes of dissuading Beijing from backing Russia's invasion of Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen


French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are traveling to China on a three-day visit that begins on Wednesday.

The visit will focus on the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine and include difficult trade talks, as well as climate-related issues. Macron is expected to warn China against sending arms to Russia and to ask that the country use its influence to help peace efforts.

Beijing has said it is neutral on the war, but also emphasizes its "no-limits friendship" with Russia. China's President Xi Jinping met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last month.

However, Paris and Beijing may find a point of convergence following Putin's recent announcement that his country plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. China, without naming Russia, has made clear its opposition to the planned deployment.

Rebalancing trade relations

Trade will also be a focus, as Macron has asked von der Leyen to accompany him to a meeting with Xi aimed at demonstrating European unity, particularly on economic issues. The French president said last month that he took such an initiative because he is "attached to European coordination." Von der Leyen visited Macron in Paris Monday to coordinate their preparations.

Last week, von der Leyen said that Europe needed to reduce risk diplomatically and economically with China, which was becoming more repressive at home and more assertive abroad.

Meanwhile, Macron's goals include maintaining and rebalancing China's trade relations with Europe, as well as safeguarding French interests in the Asia-Pacific region, where Paris sees itself as an actor thanks to its overseas territories and military operations.

The French leader will be accompanied by a delegation of over 50 CEOs including from French energy giant EDF, rail transport manufacturer Alstom and European plane-maker Airbus. The top French official said negotiations were still being held on a potential deal with Airbus that would come on top of China's 2019 order for 300 aircraft.

Macron's problems

The visit comes as things are getting more complicated for the French president at home. While Macron is in Beijing, French trade unions on Thursday will stage the 11th round of nationwide demonstrations since January against his plan to raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 64. A surge of street protests resulted in a state visit by Britain's King Charles III having to be postponed.

Macron, who last traveled to China in 2019 before the COVID-19 crisis, is to start his trip Wednesday in Beijing with a speech to the French community there. On Thursday, he will have meetings with the head of the National People's Congress, Zhao Leji, and China's Premier Li Qiang, in addition to a meeting and a state dinner with Xi in the presence of von der Leyen.

On Friday, Macron will head to the southern Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou, where Xi's father used to work as provincial governor in the 1980s. The French president will answer questions there from some of the 1,000 Chinese students at Sun Yat-Sen university. He will then meet Xi again for a private dinner and later meet with Chinese investors.

dh/es (AP, AFP)

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