BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS) - Chinese President Xi Jinping and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron met on Tuesday (Jan 9) for talks and to oversee the signing of business deals as the two global leaders seek closer ties.
After touring Beijing’s sprawling Forbidden City, Mr Macron met with Chinese business leaders and held talks with top officials at the imposing Great Hall of the People.
Mr Xi, who had already hosted Mr Macron and his wife Brigitte for dinner on Monday night, treated the French leader to a welcome ceremony with honour guards at the hall before the meeting.
Mr Macron, who has positioned himself as the leading voice of the European Union, is on the second leg of a three-day state visit to discuss an ambitious agenda with Mr Xi, the most powerful Chinese leader in decades.
France, which runs a 30 billion euro (S$48 million) deficit with China, wants to rebalance its trade relationship with Beijing and, like other European nations, has demanded reciprocal access to the huge Chinese market.
Mr Macron said the two countries would fall into a lose-lose situation if continued restrictions on foreign firms in China prompted France and Europe to put a brake on Chinese investment in Europe.
“Let’s open up both instead,” he said.
“China is conducting its economic development strategy and, given the size of this market, it has an impact on globalisation as a whole,” Mr Macron said while visiting a startup incubator, which offers new companies office space and other services, in Beijing.
“This requires a strong France. If France can’t adapt, it will fall behind,” he said.
The two presidents are expected to oversee the signing of some 50 agreements, including in the strategically key sectors of nuclear energy and aviation.
Mr Macron came to China with some 50 business leaders, including the heads of European aerospace giant Airbus and French state nuclear energy company Areva.
French banking giant BNP Paribas is also expected to set up a joint venture with a Chinese partner in the consumer credit sector, a French official said.
Ahead of the ceremony, Chinese online retailer JD.com announced plans to sell French goods worth two billion euros to Chinese consumers over the next two years – including high-end wine and cognac – and spend 100 million euros on French industrial products.
In a keynote speech on Monday, Mr Macron urged the EU to participate in Mr Xi’s US$1 trillion (S$1.3 trillion) Silk Road trade infrastructure project despite misgivings, though he warned that the initiative should not create a new hegemony.
It is the first state visit by a European leader since China’s Communist Party congress in October, which reinforced Mr Xi’s grip on power as he was formally handed a second term and his name was enshrined in the party’s constitution.
Beijing has praised Mr Macron’s decision to make China his first state visit to an Asian nation.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Macron and his wife were accompanied by students from the French international school and a French historian as they walked along the red-walled palaces of former Chinese emperors at the Forbidden City.
On a sunny but bitterly cold day, Mr Macron asked historian Patrice Fava to translate a banner which read, “With fairness, govern from the centre”.
“It’s important. It’s symbolic,” said Mrs Macron, whose husband campaigned as a centrist candidate in the French presidential election.
At the Forbidden City’s pavilion of Supreme Harmony, Mr Macron drew a parallel with the 19th Communist Party congress.
“This also allows us to better understand one of the themes of the 19th Congress raised by President Xi Jinping,” Mr Macron said. “This also comes from a profoundly anchored history in this country.”