France woos China amid concerns over its power
President Macron urged the EU to take part in Silk Road initiative
13 January, 2018
French President Emmanuel Macron crowned his visit to Beijing last week with several business deals but also pleaded for European unity in the face of China's growing economic power, news wires reported. The French leader launched last Monday his charm offensive in the Asian giant amid growing international concerns over Chinese expansionism.
Macron endorsed President Xi Jinping's massive $1tn programme to revive ancient Silk Road trading routes, but also warned Europeans to stay on guard to protect strategic sectors as China makes inroads through the project, known as One Belt One Road, which seeks to build rail, maritime and road links from Asia to Europe and Africa. “We must come up with a common position at the European level,” Macron told a press conference on the last day of his China trip on Wednesday, noting that Europeans are divided about the Silk Road revival.
In a keynote speech last Monday, Macron urged the EU to take part in Xi's Silk Road initiative, though he warned that it should not create a “new hegemony” for Beijing. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who travelled with Macron, told reporters he has rejected “many” Chinese projects in France. “We accept long-term investments, not pillaging investments,” Le Maire said.
Trade relations dominated the agenda during his visit, amid concerns over China's trade surpluses. France has a €30bn trade deficit with China. Speaking to members of the French and Chinese business community at a start-up incubator, called Soho3Q, in Beijing, Macron warned that existing bilateral trade imbalances would lead to protectionism. The French presidential delegation includes around 60 business executives, including the heads of Airbus, Areva and luxury French brands such as LVMH. While he pressed France's concerns about its trade deficit with China, Macron came away with the last minute announcement of a Chinese commitment to buy 184 single-aisle A320 planes from European aviation giant Airbus. Macron said he had confirmation from Chinese President Xi Jinping that a contract would be “finalised shortly”. The value of the deal was not immediately disclosed, but at list prices for the single-aisle planes it could total at least $18bn.
Macron added that France and China also had “ambitions” for sales of Airbus's longer-range A350 and its large but hard-to-sell A380 “in the weeks and months to come.”
Other business deals were made during the visit, including one for French state energy giant Areva to help build a nuclear spent fuel reprocessing plant in China. China also agreed to lift the 16-year-old embargo on French beef within six months. Ninety percent of China's beef imports come currently from Brazil, Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand.
Among other results, French engineering firm Fives signed a deal with Chinese online retail giant JD.com, which will set up a logistics centre in France to source French food and luxury products for sale online in China. JD.com agreed to sell €2bn worth of French products, such as Remy Martin cognac or Evian water, on its website over the next two years.
After their meeting, Macron and Xi both voiced their commitment to the Paris accord for climate in the face of US President Donald Trump's pledge to withdraw from the pact.