GUANGZHOU/HONG KONG, April 7 (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping gave President Emmanuel Macron an unusually lavish state visit, in what some analysts see as a sign of Beijing’s growing push to woo key allies within the European Union. United Nations.
The two leaders visited southern China together on Friday, where Macron was due to have Chinese tea with Xi at his father’s former home in Guangzhou, the economic and manufacturing powerhouse of Guangdong province.
Such trips by Xi with visiting leaders are rare. Diplomats say it underscores the importance Beijing attaches to this relationship with a key member of the European Union as it seeks support against what Xi calls “all-out containment, encirclement and suppression” by the United States.
“All Chinese foreign policy attacks have the US-China relationship in the background…so working with any country, especially a middle or big power like France, is something they try to counter the US,” Zhao Suisheng said. , Professor of China Studies and Foreign Policy at the University of Denver.
Noah Parkin, an analyst at Rhodium Group, said China’s main objective is to prevent Europe from aligning closely with the US.
“In this sense, Macron is probably Beijing’s most important partner in Europe,” he said. Macron is often seen by diplomats as the main driver of key policies within the EU.
Macron traveled to China with European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen, and the two pressed China on Ukraine.
Still, Macron was given the full red carpet treatment.
Van der Leyen, who described China as “repressive” in a critical speech before his trip, has at times looked unfortunate in Beijing, with low-key greetings at the airport and not being invited to some state functions with Xi and Macron.
China’s state-backed Global Times newspaper said in an editorial on Thursday: “It is clear to all that being a strategic slave to Washington is a dead end. Transforming China-France relations into a bridge for China-Europe cooperation will benefit both sides. And the world.”
Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a former French prime minister who has traveled to China several times, told Reuters on the sidelines of an agreement signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People that some of Xi’s charm was having an impact.
“Isn’t diplomacy, at one point or another, flattery?” he said. “There is always a little in human relations. Every side plays with it.”
In Washington, China’s diplomatic engagement with France is viewed with a degree of skepticism.
Beyond Ukraine, China wants a realignment closer to Europe economically because of its ties to the United States, but such a transition is unlikely at this point, people familiar with U.S. government thinking said.
Washington is taking a wait-and-see approach to European engagement with Beijing over Ukraine, according to the people, who asked not to be named. On Thursday, Macron urged Beijing to talk to Russia about the war in Ukraine, while von der Leyen said Xi expressed a willingness to talk to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Xi did not mention a possible conversation with Zelenskiy in China’s official statements about his comments after the meetings.
Parkin, the analyst, said Macron did not appear to be getting much out of the trip.
“Macron hopes he can persuade Xi to change his attitude towards war,” he said. “He gave Xi a series of gifts — denouncing the disengagement as a trap, bringing in a large business delegation, and reaffirming his support for strategic autonomy — without getting anything in return.”
China’s wooing of Macron is part of a flurry of diplomatic moves this year as it tries to remain unfettered by the United States amid differences over the war in Taiwan, Ukraine and US-led restrictions on technology exports.
China has increased its diplomatic spending by 12.2 percent this year, with leaders and senior officials visiting Singapore, Malaysia, Spain and Japan in recent weeks.
China helped broker a surprise standoff between Saudi Arabia and Iran in March, fueled by Beijing’s desire to cast itself as a Middle East peacemaker and shape a multipolar world.
Sino-EU engagement will continue in the coming weeks with incoming foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell and Germany’s foreign minister 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 formal rivals or rivals.”
Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington, Yu Lun Tian in Beijing; Written by James Pomfret, Cinematography by Raju Gopalakrishnan
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