PARIS: Chinese President Xi Jinping and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Monday (Mar 25) called for increased cooperation between the European Union and China, at a time of growing nervousness over Beijing's massive investments on the continent.
Speaking at the Elysee Palace following talks with Xi, Macron called for a "strong Europe-China partnership", adding that this must be based on "strong multilateralism" and "fair and balanced" trade.
Xi's, for his part, stressed that "a united and prosperous Europe fits in with our vision of a multipolar world".
"China will always back European integration and its development," he added in a statement to the press.
The statements followed the signing of a dozen of deals on nuclear power, cultural exchanges, clean energy, and a huge contract which will see China buy 290 Airbus A320s and 10 A350 airliners from Europe's Airbus conglomerate.
The order, originally for 184 A320s for 13 Chinese airlines, was first announced during Macron's state visit to China in January 2018.
All the deals, including one on French exports to China of frozen chicken, amount to a total of some US$40 billion.
Monday's talks come a day ahead of another meeting in Paris, this time between Macron, Xi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker to explore "points of convergence" between the two trading giants.
An EU-China summit will take place in Brussels next month.
Earlier on his trip, Xi visited Italy, which became the first G7 state to sign up to China's vast "New Silk Road" infrastructure project that has sparked unease in the US and the European Union.
Macron also announced that France and China will cooperate on a number of investment projects in some of the countries providing stepping stones on this new Silk Road.
Monday morning, Macron and Xi had met at the Arc de Triomphe where they placed a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, notably to honour the 140,000 Chinese workers who contributed to the World War I efforts in France.
Talks at the Elysee Palace later touched on issues such as climate change, cooperation and business deals, officials in the French presidency said.
Monday evening Macron was to host a state dinner for Xi with some 200 guests, including the French actor Alain Delon, who is widely known in China.
In an interview with the Nice-Matin newspaper after hosting Xi at a dinner on the French Riviera, Macron had suggested that the joint talks "would allow us to establish a common definition for a new international order".
"SILK ROAD" RESERVATIONS
Xi arrived in France on Sunday from Italy, whose government's involvement in the New Silk Road project comes despite misgivings over the huge venture by other European nations wary of China's growing influence.
Xi insisted the project - a massive undertaking to link Asia to Europe - will be a two-way street of investment and trade.
EU Budget Commissioner Gunther Oettinger in a newspaper interview Sunday expressed "concern that in Italy and other European countries, infrastructure of strategic importance like power networks, high speed rail lines or harbours are no longer in European but in Chinese hands".
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also voiced concern in an interview with the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.
"In a world with giants like China, Russia or our partners in the United States, we can only survive if we are united as the EU," he said.
"And if some countries believe that they can do clever business with the Chinese, then they will be surprised when they wake up and find themselves dependent."
WALKING A TIGHTROPE
Xi's visit poses a particular challenge for Macron, who wants to deepen EU ties with China while pushing back against Beijing's growing global clout.
Europe's distrust of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, which is poised to become the dominant player in next-generation 5G mobile technology worldwide, is emblematic of the increasingly rocky relationship.
The US is pressuring European allies not to use Huawei technology, saying it creates a security risk by potentially letting Beijing snoop on sensitive communications.
France has so far not ruled out using Huawei technology.
As well as addressing commercial cooperation and strategic issues with Xi, Macron has also been urged to deal with the case of Meng Hongwei, Chinese former head of the France-based Interpol police agency.
Meng's wife has had no news of her husband since his arrest in China nearly six months ago. It emerged Sunday she had written to Macron asking him to bring up his disappearance with Xi.
Meng is believed to be facing corruption charges.
Despite the many sources of friction, France wants to engage China as a closer partner as Washington makes a pointed withdrawal from global affairs under Trump's "America First" policy.
For example, Macron may seek more Chinese support for the French-backed G5 Sahel force fighting Islamist extremists in Western Africa, French presidential aides said.