French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping deliver a joint statement at the Elysee Palace, as part of the Chinese president's two-day state visit in France, in Paris on May 6, 2024. LEHTIKUVA / AFP

International news

Chinese President Xi Jinping, on a state visit to France at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron, expressed his hope for China and France to illuminate a brighter future together, marking a significant moment in diplomatic relations between the two countries. 

Xi’s agenda for the visit includes discussions on enhancing China-France and China-Europe relations in light of new global circumstances. He plans to engage in talks covering major international and regional issues, aiming to align strategies and further diplomatic and economic cooperation.

France was the first major Western nation to establish formal diplomatic relations in 1964, create a comprehensive strategic partnership, and engage in air transportation and civil nuclear energy projects with China.

An article by Chinese President Xi Jinping titled "Carrying Forward the Spirit that Guided the Establishment of China-France Diplomatic Relations, Working Together for Global Peace and Development" was published Sunday in French media Le Figaro.

In this article, pointed out that amidst skepticism from some Western policymakers advocating for "de-risking" from China, the longstanding and mutually beneficial relationship between France and China continues to thrive, effectively countering protectionist sentiments. Over the last six decades, the bilateral trade has flourished, experiencing an 800-fold increase to an impressive 78.9 billion U.S. dollars in the previous year, with a consistent annual growth of 5.9 percent from 2019 to 2023.

In his article Xi Jinping emphasised his intention to strengthen the long-standing friendship and deepen exchanges in various fields including politics and culture. In his text Xi outlines three pivotal messages during his state visit to France, reflecting on the historical and evolving relationship between the two nations. Firstly, Xi emphasises the intention to enhance the spirit of the longstanding diplomatic ties initiated by Charles de Gaulle 60 years ago, aiming to foster new developments and deepen the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and France. This includes spearheading cooperation in various sectors like aviation, nuclear energy, and cultural exchanges. Secondly, marking the 75th anniversary of the People's Republic of China, Xi announces plans to expand China's open economic policies, inviting more French agricultural and cosmetic products into China, and encouraging Chinese investments abroad to promote mutual growth and innovation, particularly in green technologies. Lastly, Xi reaffirms China's commitment to global peace and stability, underlining the importance of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and expressing readiness to collaborate with France to address international conflicts and challenges, such as the Ukraine crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as they leave after holding a trilateral meeting, which included the French President, as part of the Chinese president's two-day state visit, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on May 6, 2024. LEHTIKUVA / AFP

During his two-day state visit to France, Xi Jinping was met with pressing appeals from Emmanuel Macron and EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen to address trade tensions and the war in Ukraine. Macron emphasised the need for "fair rules for all" and a balanced relationship, asserting, "The future of our continent depends very clearly on our capacity to continue to develop a balanced relationship with China." He also expressed support for the EU's investigations into China's trade practices in sectors like electric vehicles and medical devices. In response, China has launched an anti-dumping probe into European wine-based liquors, primarily affecting French cognac producers. Despite this, Xi urged for continued partnership and deeper strategic communication without indicating any concessions. Von der Leyen criticised China for creating "unsustainable unbalances" through overcapacity and warned, "Europe will not waver from making tough decisions needed to protect its economies and security." Additionally, Macron plans to discuss Xi's ties with Russia, highlighting the strategic implications of their "no-limits partnership" as Russia depends increasingly on China amidst heavy sanctions from the West.

Xi Jinping dismissed concerns about "China's overcapacity problem," asserting that from perspectives of comparative advantage or global market demand, "there is no such thing as 'China's overcapacity problem'." Xi emphasised the strategic and long-term perspective China holds towards its relationship with the EU, highlighting Europe as a crucial partner in China's diplomacy and modernisation path. He advocated for enhanced mutual trust, strategic communication, and cooperation between China and the EU, urging that the relationship should "not target any third party, nor should it be dependent on or dictated by any third party." Xi also highlighted the importance of people-to-people exchanges and the upcoming China-EU Summit to foster a stable partnership on industrial and supply chains.

Xi has also addressed pressing global issues such as the Ukraine crisis and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, advocating for peaceful solutions and the role of multilateralism in resolving international disputes. He expressed China’s readiness to work with France and other global actors to pursue peaceful solutions to ongoing crisis.

Von der Leyen and Macron acknowledged the critical role of cooperation with China in addressing global challenges like climate change and the Ukraine crisis. Von der Leyen emphasised the importance of a sound relationship with China for addressing global issues like climate change and recognised China's efforts in green transition. She also underscored the need for mutual respect and trust to enhance the EU-China relationship.

The discussions and agreements during Xi’s visit are expected to span a broad range of areas including trade, investment, innovation, and cultural exchange. This reflects the comprehensive nature of the bilateral relationship which extends beyond mere diplomacy to encompass multilateral cooperation on global challenges.

Xi highlighted the mutual benefits derived from the growing relationship, citing advancements in cooperation on aviation, aerospace, nuclear energy, agrifood, and green development. The visit is also a showcase for the unfolding activities of the China-France Year of Culture and Tourism, an initiative that underscores the thriving cultural exchange between the two nations.

During his speech at the Sixth Meeting of the China-France Business Council, Xi outlined the economic interdependence of the two nations and proposed future collaborations, particularly in green and digital transitions. He also reiterated China’s commitment to a wide-ranging opening-up policy that would bring mutual benefits, including easier access for French agricultural products and other goods to the Chinese market.

In his speech at the closing ceremony of the Sixth Meeting of the China-France Business Council, Xi Jinping articulated a vision for a deeper, multifaceted partnership. Highlighting the profound economic interconnections, Xi noted, "Our trade has expanded by nearly 800 times since the establishment of diplomatic relations, reaching 78.9 billion U.S. dollars." He underscored the commitment to expanding this relationship further, stating, "China is ready to enhance all-round exchanges and cooperation with France, bring the China-France relationship to a new stage and make it even more productive." Xi emphasised future cooperation in economic, technological, and global governance arenas, promoting a vision of shared progress and addressing global challenges through a strengthened China-France and China-Europe strategic partnership.

This state visit not only commemorates a historic milestone in China-France relations but also occurs at a time of significant global change and uncertainty. The outcomes of Xi’s discussions with Macron and other European leaders are anticipated to have wider implications for international relations, particularly in terms of how major powers interact on the world stage.