Brushing aside their differences on the controversial “Belt and Road Initiative”, Xi described bilateral ties with France as “sound and stable” and oversaw with Macron the signing of 15 business deals totalling about €40 billion (US$45 billion), including an order for 300 Airbus planes.
The larger-than-expected aircraft deal, estimated at €30 billion at catalogue prices, matched an order for 300 Boeing planes when US President Donald Trump visited Beijing in November 2017.
Other deals ranged from the renewable energy sector to shipping and banking as well as Beijing’s agreement to lift an embargo on French poultry.
A letter of intent on space collaboration was also signed, allowing Paris to send French scientific instruments to China’s lunar mission Chang’e 6 scheduled for around 2023, according to the French space agency CNES.
Xi’s trip to Europe highlighted the confusion and disharmony dominating the continent at the moment.
“Europe needs economic lifelines that none of the non-European G7 countries, the US included, seem to be willing to avail. Money talks, and China is willing to put some on the table. All the rest is hot air,” he said.
Macron, who led a recent European Union effort to redefine its China policy and criticised Italy for becoming the first G7 country to endorse Beijing’s belt and road scheme over the weekend, hailed Xi’s visit as an “excellent signal” of the strength and reliability of bilateral relations.
The French president called for a “strong Europe-China partnership, based on clear, strict and ambitious rules” as well as “strong multilateralism” and “fair and balanced” trade, in a veiled swipe at Trump’s unilateralism and his “America first” policy.
“Europe must be united and have a coherent message. That’s what we are doing on strategic investments,” Macron said on Monday in a joint address with Xi following their talks at the Elysee Palace, without taking any questions.
Xi reiterated China’s support for a united Europe and stressed that mutual trust remained the key to good relations between major powers such as China and France in a world of uncertainties and “major changes rarely seen in a century”.
“In politics, we should not only build a strong ‘dam’ of mutual trust, but also a ‘lighthouse’ of ideal,” Xi was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
Macron was also quoted by the Chinese state news agency as making an offer to align France’s industrial policy with Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” strategy, which has been a hot-button issue in Trump’s trade war with China. Washington has accused Beijing of using the state-led strategy to help China replace the US as global industrial leader.
Earlier in the day, Macron rolled out the red carpet for Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan at the Arc de Triomphe monument and hosted a state dinner at the Elysee Palace in Paris.
Two French fighter jets escorted Xi’s plane, according to Xinhua, as it flew to Paris from Nice, where Xi arrived and had a private dinner with the French leader on Sunday.
Shi Zhiqin, an international relations professor at Tsinghua University, noted Xi’s visit to Paris, the second in five years, came at a sensitive time, with the EU caught between the escalating rivalry between China and the US.
China’s belt and road strategy and Xi’s spending spree have been criticised as a tactic by Beijing to undermine EU unity and pit European powers against each other.
“Major European powers are beleaguered by domestic chaos, economic stagnancy and deep-running divisions among themselves. It’s not at all surprising that China has become the scapegoat as the EU is in a dilemma on how to deal with a rising Beijing,” he said.
Photo credit: EPA-EFE