04/05/2023, 17.52
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Macron and von der Leyen to discuss Ukraine and trade with Xi Jinping

The two leaders, who want to show a united EU vis-à-vis China, are expected to put pressure on the Chinese president to intervene to stop the Ukrainian conflict. France is interested in new contracts with China. The EU president has a tougher stance towards China.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – French President Emmanuel Macron and European Union President Ursula von der Leyen set for China on a visit that will last until Friday. Peace in Ukraine and trade relations between the European Union and China will top their agenda with Chinese leaders.

The EU’s relationship with China has soured since 2021 when the ratification by the European parliament of a bilateral investment pact was put on hold, not to mention Beijing’s substantial support for Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

The French president invited the head of the European Commission to join him in this mission to show European unity.

In November, the French criticised German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for his solo visit to Beijing. The latter was justified as an attempt to defuse rising tensions between China and the EU, but for critics, it showed Berlin's usual game to protect its own economic interests in China.

Macron and von der Leyen are likely to ask Chinese President Xi Jinping to use his influence on Putin to stop the war in Ukraine, or at least shy away from showing open support for Moscow, i.e. avoid sending weapons to the Russians.

China recently presented a vague "peace proposal”, which the US and Europe rejected since it fails to condemn Russian aggression and does not clearly call for Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territory.

Macron is expected to snatch lucrative trade contracts. In fact, he is travelling with a 50-strong French business delegation, including Airbus company officials, set to ink a big plane order with the Chinese.

However, the French leader will have to be cautious. Cozing up with the Chinese might not go down well in the United States or among other EU members, especially in Eastern Europe – increasingly irked by China’s ties with Russia and its pressure on Taiwan.

Xi has long tried to drive a wedge between Europe and the US, and sees Macron as the best way to do that. Several times, the French leader has stressed the need for Europe to gain its own “strategic autonomy" (from the United States).

Conversely, in a very tough speech last Friday, von der Leyen declared that the evolution of relations between China and Russia will shape the Sino-European relationship.

Germany is trying to get Europe to reduce its exposure to China in key sectors such as rare minerals, batteries and solar panels. In a clear alignment with Washington, the EU president stressed that the EU must also limit China’s access to advanced technologies.

The EU Commission is expected to present a new economic security strategy in June that would block investments by European companies in sensitive sectors of the Chinese economy.

On 28 March, the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission agreed on the principles behind the Anti-Coercion Instrument (ACI) to be used against intimidating trade practices like those used by China against Lithuania since 2021.

Within the European Union, directives are already in place to protect European markets from China’s dumping practices and its export subsidies to Chinese companies, and to screen investments from third countries in the strategic sectors of its member states.

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