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Chinese Leder's Visit to Europe Begins


In May 1975, Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping traveled to France as part of the first official visit by a Chinese communist leader to a Western country. He began to open China to the world. Forty-nine years later, almost to the same day, another Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, will visit Paris, Belgrade and Budapest, while Beijing's relations with the West appear to be fraying. Xi Jinping's May 5-10 trip comes a year after the European Union (EU) began "de-risking" its economy from China and a recent spy scandal.

France is Xi Jinping's first stop as he looks to re-engage with the old continent. The fact that French President Emmanuel Macron invited European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to take part in a trilateral meeting with Xi Jinping on the first day of his visit will be key to developing a common approach. Just last week Macron warned of the collapse of the European project unless he strengthens his political autonomy and security. Serbia and Hungary support the format of cooperation with China. This positioning of European unity towards China has been traditional for Macron since his April 2023 visit to Beijing with von der Leyen and his invitation to then German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for Xi Jinping's visit to Paris in March 2019.

At the bilateral level, Macron, as he explained in a new interview with the Economist, has signaled his willingness to continue to partner on “global issues” and to “do whatever it takes to bring China back into line with international rules.” But 2024 is not 2019, and there is much greater clarity about the limits of considering China as a reliable partner. Since then, the EU has strengthened trade protection instruments and become more proactive in correcting economic distortions and competition. France has particularly insisted on a Commission investigation into Chinese electric vehicle (EV) subsidies. As China now faces an economic slowdown, issues of structural excess capacity, particularly in the electric vehicle, solar panel and battery sectors, will undoubtedly be a key theme of the visit.

Moreover, Macron's willingness to take greater political leadership on Ukraine and European security issues requires a firm stance against China's support for Russia. With Russian President Vladimir Putin set to visit China at the end of May, Macron is likely to engage with Xi on the same terms as in 2023, when he called on the Chinese leader not to send weapons to Russia. It is hoped that Macron's upcoming talks with Xi Jinping will have a positive impact on global security issues.


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