World

Macron hosts Xi in French mountains to talk Ukraine, trade

Published May 7, 2024
Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) is welcomed by France’s President Emmanuel Macron (R) upon his arrival at Tarbes’ airport at the start of his trip to visit the village of Bagnere-de-Bigorre and the adjacent Pyrenees ski resort of La Mongie as part of his two-day state visit to France in Tarbes, south western France, on May 7, 2024. Photo: AFP
Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) is welcomed by France’s President Emmanuel Macron (R) upon his arrival at Tarbes’ airport at the start of his trip to visit the village of Bagnere-de-Bigorre and the adjacent Pyrenees ski resort of La Mongie as part of his two-day state visit to France in Tarbes, south western France, on May 7, 2024. Photo: AFP

TARBES: French President Emmanuel Macron was on Tuesday hosting Chinese leader Xi Jinping at one of his beloved childhood haunts in the Pyrenees mountains, pressing a message to Beijing not to support Russia’s war against Ukraine and to accept fairer trade.

The first day of Xi’s state visit to France, his first to Europe since 2019, saw respectful but sometimes robust exchanges between the two men during a succession of talks on Monday.

Macron, joined initially by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, urged Xi not to allow the export of any technology that could be used by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine and asked Beijing to do all it could to end the war.

Xi, for his part, warned the West not to “smear” China over the conflict and also hit back at accusations that Chinese overcapacity was causing global trade imbalances.

China’s Xi praises French ties as Macron prepares to talk trade

The peaceful mountain village of Bagnere-de-Bigorre and nearby La Mongie – as well as lunch accompanied by their wives, Peng Liyuan and Brigitte Macron – will allow Xi and Macron to explore these issues in relative privacy.

While born and brought up in the north of France, the young “Manu” spent numerous winter and summer holidays with his late maternal grandparents in the area just below the Col du Tourmalet, over 2,000 metres (6,560 feet) above sea level and a legendary climb in the Tour de France.

Macron personally welcomed Xi when he arrived at Tarbes airport in southwest France and the leaders headed to a mountain restaurant to dine on local lamb, cheeses and wines.

“Emmanuel Macron’s diplomacy has always relied, perhaps excessively, on the power of seduction,” said Bertrand Badie, specialist in international relations at Sciences Po university, warning that Xi was not known for “sentimentality”.

‘Count on China’

Europe is concerned that while officially neutral over the Ukraine conflict, Beijing is essentially backing Russia, which is using Chinese machine tools for weapons production.

The other two countries chosen by Xi for his European tour after France – Serbia and Hungary – are seen as among the most sympathetic to Moscow in Europe.

After a bilateral meeting with Xi, Macron welcomed China’s “commitments” not to supply arms to Russia, while also expressing concern over possible deliveries of dual-use technology.

He thanked Xi for backing his idea of a truce in all conflicts including Ukraine during the Paris Olympics this summer and pointedly added that France was not seeking “regime change” in Russia.

Xi, who is due to host Russian President Vladimir Putin in China later this month, warned against using the Ukraine crisis “to cast blame, smear a third country and incite a new Cold War”.

Writing in Serbian daily Politika ahead of arriving in Belgrade later on Tuesday, Xi criticised NATO for its “flagrant” bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia in 1999, warning Beijing would “never allow such tragic history to repeat itself”.

‘Flooding European market’

Both Macron and von der Leyen made trade a priority in the talks, underscoring that Europe must defend its “strategic interests” in its economic relations with China amid fears of a trade war.

Von der Leyen said there were “imbalances that remain significant” and “a matter of great concern”, singling out Chinese subsidies for electric cars and steel that were “flooding the European market”.

Macron thanked Xi for not imposing “provisional” customs duties on French cognac amid an ongoing anti-dumping investigation, and presented him with bottles of the expensive drink.

Rights groups and political opponents have railed at the red carpet welcome for Xi.

They accuse Macron of turning a blind eye to abuses by Beijing, including repression of the Uyghur minority while placing too much emphasis on his counterpart’s pledges.

The visit has also coincided with intensified concerns about alleged Chinese hacking attacks – denied by Beijing – against lawmakers and officials in European countries including France, Germany and the UK.

Raphael Glucksmann, a Socialist candidate for the European Parliament elections in June, denounced the “friendly tone” of the visit.

He told RTL television: “The man who deports the Uyghurs (and) represses the people of Hong Kong and the Tibetans is not our friend.”

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