Macron puts trade and Ukraine as top priorities as China’s Xi opens European visit in France

May 5, 2024, 9:31 PM | Updated: May 6, 2024, 9:40 pm

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron held talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Monday that focused on trade disputes — including lifting immediate tariff threats on Cognac exports — and Ukraine-related diplomatic efforts.

Xi was in France for a two-day state visit to open his European tour.

Speaking alongside Xi after their meeting at the Elysee presidential palace, Macron said that France hopes China’s influence on Moscow would help to move Russia toward ending the war in Ukraine.

“We welcome the Chinese authorities’ commitments to refrain from selling any weapons or aid” and to “strictly control” sales of products and technologies that can be used for both civilian and military purposes, Macron said.

China claims neutrality in the war.

“History has repeatedly proven that any conflict can ultimately be resolved only through negotiation,” Xi said. “We call on all parties to restart contact and dialogue.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced plans to visit China this month.

Last year, Macron appealed to Xi to “bring Russia to its senses,” but the call wasn’t followed by any apparent action by Beijing.

Both leaders also expressed their concerns regarding the situation in the Middle East, where Macron said France and China share the “same goals,” that is “to achieve an immediate cease-fire to release hostages, protect the populations, facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, encourage a regional deescalation and reopen a political perspective.”

Xi called the Israel-Hamas war a “tragedy” that is “a test of human conscience.”

“The international community must do something. We call for an immediate, comprehensive and sustainable cease-fire in Gaza,” he said.

In addition, Xi expressed China’s willingness to work with France “to take the Paris Olympics as an opportunity to advocate a global cease-fire and cessation of war during the Games.”

Macron advocates for making the Paris Games “a diplomatic moment of peace” and respect the Olympic Truce.

Trade issues also were at the top of the agenda as Macron denounced the trade practices of China as shoring up protections and subsidies.

Macron thanked Xi for his “openness about the provisional measures toward French Cognac.” The remark came after China opened an anti-dumping investigation into Cognac and other European brandy earlier this year.

A French top diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive talks, said that Xi agreed not to apply tariffs in the short-term pending further investigation.

French gifts to the Chinese president on Monday included luxury bottles of Cognac. Xi reciprocated with Chinese-language editions of “Madame Bovary” and other classic French novels.

France hopes to be able to continue to export its products, including brandy and cosmetics, to the Chinese market.

Earlier, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen joined both leaders for a meeting meant to address broader European Union concerns.

The EU launched an investigation last year into Chinese subsidies and could impose tariffs on electric vehicles exported from China. The 27-member bloc last month opened another inquiry into Chinese wind turbine makers.

“For trade to be fair, access to both markets needs to be reciprocal,” von der Leyen said after the meeting. “Our market is and remains open to fair competition and to investments, but it is not good for Europe if it harms our security and makes us vulnerable.”

She said that Europe “will not waver from making tough decisions needed to protect its economy and its security.”

The discussions were expected to be closely watched from Washington, a month before U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to pay his own state visit to France.

Xi’s European trip, the first in five years, seeks to rebuild relations at a time of global tensions. After France, he will head to Serbia and Hungary.

Xi’s visit marks the 60th anniversary of France-China diplomatic relations, and follows Macron’s trip to China in April 2023. Macron prompted controversy on that trip when he said that France wouldn’t blindly follow the U.S. in getting involved in crises that aren’t its concern, apparently referring to China’s demands for unification with Taiwan.

Several groups — including International Campaign for Tibet and France’s Human Rights League — urged Macron to put human rights issues at the heart of his talks with Xi. Protesters demonstrated in Paris as Xi arrived on Sunday, calling for a free Tibet.

Amnesty International called on Macron to demand the release of Uyghur economics professor Ilham Tohti, who was jailed in China for life in 2014 on charges of promoting separatism, and other imprisoned activists.

On Monday, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders staged a protest in front of the Arc de Triomphe monument to denounce Xi’s visit, calling the Chinese president “one of the greatest predators of press freedom.” The group says 119 journalists are imprisoned in the country.

Macron said in an interview published Sunday that he would raise human rights concerns. He didn’t mention the issue in his public comments Monday.

The second day of the visit is meant to be more personal. Macron has invited Xi to visit the Tourmalet Pass in the Pyrenees mountains, where the French leader spent time as a child to see his grandmother. The trip is meant to be a reciprocal gesture after Xi took Macron last year to the residence of the governor of Guangdong province, where his father once lived.


Barbara Surk in Nice, Angela Charlton in Paris and Fu Ting in Washington contributed to this story.


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Macron puts trade and Ukraine as top priorities as China’s Xi opens European visit in France