Chinese Xi met Macron and von der Leyen to discuss trade, Ukraine and Gaza but avoided human rights issues

Emmanuel Macron @EmmanuelMacron

On May 5th, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Paris, France, in the first step of his six-day European visit. Xi visits the continent after five years, and his trip coincides with the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and China. 

The Chinese leader chose to travel to Paris and meet French President Emmanuel Macron and the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at a time China’s hostile actions against the EU and member states, including arrests and charges related to Chinese espionage and deepening ties with Russia and Serbia, are raising concern about the threats China could represent for European democracies. Not all EU member states realise at the same level China’s efforts to influence national politics and use trade relations for the exclusive interest of Beijing. 

In his meeting with the Presidents of France and the European Commission, Xi discussed geopolitical issues – exclusively Ukraine and Gaza – and trade. The Human Rights issue – especially the Uyghur permanent and methodical repression at a level of ethnic cleansing, the chase of Tibetans, and the persecution of pro-democracy activists inside the People’s Republic and Hong Kong – weren’t included in the agenda. Similarly excluded from talks was China’s aggression in the South China Sea, particularly in the Taiwan Strait. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen emphasised that given the existential nature of the threats stemming from the war for Ukraine and Europe, this does affect the EU-China relations. She also warned the Chinese leader that the EU would not hesitate to take strict measures to protect its economy and security amid tense trade relations with China. 

Xi will also visit Budapest and Belgrade, where China has deep economic relations and influences political power in exchange for protection on international fora. 

The EU has tools to protect security and the economy

A press statement by President von der Leyen following the trilateral meeting highlighted the importance of the EU’s relations with China. 

The three leaders exchanged views on the geopolitical situation, focusing on Ukraine and the conflicts in the Middle East. 

“We agree that Europe and China have a shared interest in peace and security. We count on China to use all its influence on Russia to end Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” stated von der Leyen. “President Xi has played an important role in de-escalating Russia’s irresponsible nuclear threats, and I am confident that President Xi will continue to do so against the backdrop of the ongoing nuclear threats by Russia. We have also discussed China’s commitment not to provide any lethal equipment to Russia. More effort is needed to curtail delivery of dual-use goods to Russia that find their way to the battlefield,” the Commission’s President added.  

Concerning the situation in the Middle East, they agreed that “no effort can be spared in de-escalating tensions and preventing a wider conflict in the region”. They called for a ceasefire and the release of all hostages. 

They agree to continue to work to provide all humanitarian support possible while working for a two-state solution. Von der Leyen and Macron made clear their concern about Iran’s direct threat to stability in the region and their belief that China can play an essential role in limiting the irresponsible proliferation of Iranian ballistic missiles and drones.

Businesses at the core of the meeting

The three leaders also discussed economic and trade relationships. The EC President underlined that these relations are among the most important in the world. 

“I am convinced that if the competition is fair, we in Europe will have thriving, durable economies that will support more good jobs. But of course, today we also discussed the imbalances that remain significant, and this is a matter of great concern,” stated Ursula von der Leyen. 

The Commission’s President warned Xi that the EU will defend European companies and economies and will never hesitate to do so if necessary. 

Von der Leyen focused on three topics of crucial importance for the EU-China relations.

Chinese subsidised products—such as electric vehicles or steel, for example—are flooding the European market. At the same time, China continues to massively support its manufacturing sector. As the domestic demand doesn’t increase, the world cannot absorb China’s surplus production. 

“Therefore, I have encouraged the Chinese government to address these structural overcapacities. At the same time, we will closely coordinate with G7 countries and emerging economies that are also increasingly affected by China’s market distortions,” von der Leyen said.

“For trade to be fair, access to each other’s market also needs to be reciprocal,” stressed the EC President. 

“We discussed how to make real progress on market access. I remain confident that more progress can be achieved. At the same time, we stand ready to make full use of our trade defence instruments if this is necessary. For example, a couple of weeks ago, we launched our first investigation under the International Procurement Instrument. Europe cannot accept market-distorting practices that could lead to deindustrialisation here at home,” emphasised von der Leyen.

The Commission’s President stated that improving the resilience of supply chains is crucial. 

“For example, we tackle excessive dependencies by diversifying sources of critical raw materials. This is why we have negotiated several agreements to widen the number of countries from which we obtain critical raw materials. This is basically de-risking in practice. Our market is and remains open to fair competition and investments, but it is not good for Europe if it harms our security and makes us vulnerable. And this is why we act,” she said.

During his state visit to France, French President Emmanuel Macron urged Chinese President Xi Jinping to embrace fair global trade rules for EU-China exchanges. The French Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, also expressed his desire for “an equitable and solid economic partnership” with China. According to Le Maire, France was experiencing a yearly trade deficit of 46 billion euros ($49.6 billion) with China.

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