Macron visit to China comes at 'complex' time for EU-Beijing trade

What you need to know about the French President's visit

China’s President Xi Jinping, right, and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron arrive at a joint press conference in Beijing. AFP
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French President Emmanuel Macron's meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Thursday took place after European leaders called for forming closer ties with China during visits to Beijing.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited China in recent months. And in Thursday's meeting, Mr Macron was not alone: he was accompanied by the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

Here are the key takeaways from this week's meetings.

European Commission attendance

China is the European Union's largest trading partner but in recent months, the relationship has been deteriorating, causing a trade deficit for the EU of €395.7 billion last year up from €250.3 billion the year before, according to Eurostat.

In a meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang, Ms von der Leyen said EU-China relations have become “more complex” in recent years.

She said her meeting with Mr Xi was to discuss how to “rebalance” trade between the EU and China.

One of the other topics of discussion with the Chinese President included French businesses' access to the Chinese market, particularly in the aeronautical, food and finance sectors.

More than 50 businessmen joined Mr Macron on his trip, including leaders from Airbus, Electricite de France (EDF) and water, waste and energy management service company Veolia.

“Several important contracts will be signed,” Mr Macron said on Thursday.

Airbus deal

After what the Elysee Palace said was a “frank and constructive” discussion between the two leaders, Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury announced the opening of a second final assembly line in Tianjin, doubling the company's production capacity in China.

“It makes a lot of sense for us, as the Chinese market keeps growing, to be serving local for the Chinese airlines, and probably some other customers in the region,” Mr Faury said.

The assembly line for the A320 will begin operations in 2025, Mr Faury said.

Airbus also plans to increase the production capacity for its first production site, which opened in 2008 and currently puts out four A320s a month.

Airbus also agreed to sell more aircraft to China during the state visit, although the exact number is unknown.

EDF

French state utility EDF signed a deal renewing its relationship with Chinese utility CGN, both of which operate nuclear plants.

French pharmaceutical company Sanofi and the government of Pingshan District in China's Shenzhen signed a letter of intent for co-operation on vaccines to “accelerate the introduction of innovative vaccines to the Chinese market”, state news agency Xinhua reported.

“It's a very important partnership for us because Sanofi's growth in China, especially in vaccines, owes so much to the strong investment of the Pingshan District and Shenzhen,” Thomas Triomphe, executive vice president of Sanofi, said during a trip to Shenzhen.

Ukraine crisis

On Thursday, Mr Xi also expressed a “willingness” to speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ms von der Leyen said, calling his words “positive”.

Mr Zelenskyy had been asking to speak to Mr Xi as recently as last month, when the Chinese leader visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Mr Xi said a conversation could happen when the “conditions and time are right”, Ms von der Leyen said.

“The Russian aggression in Ukraine has dealt a blow to [international] stability,” Mr Macron told his Chinese counterpart on Thursday at the start of their bilateral meeting.

“I know I can count on you to bring Russia back to its senses and everyone back to the negotiating table.”

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: April 06, 2023, 4:25 PM