By Michel Rose and Laurie Chen
BEIJING (Reuters) – European Union government head Ursula von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron are to land in China on Wednesday searching for to “reset” ties with an essential financial accomplice whereas broaching thorny points like Ukraine and commerce dangers.
Macron final visited China in 2019 whereas it will likely be von der Leyen’s first journey since changing into European Fee president that 12 months.
Since then, China’s strict pandemic controls compelled all diplomatic conferences on-line as relations with Europe soured: first resulting from a stalled funding pact in 2021 after which Beijing’s refusal to sentence Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
For Macron, going through embarrassing pension protests at dwelling, the journey provides an opportunity to land some financial wins as he travels with a 50-strong enterprise delegation, together with Airbus, which is negotiating a giant aircraft order, Alstom (EPA:) and nuclear big EDF (EPA:).
Nevertheless, some analysts mentioned ostentatious deal-signing would seem opportunistic at a time of heightened frictions between america and China.
“It is not the time to announce enterprise offers or large new investments,” mentioned Noah Barkin, an analyst with Rhodium Group. “It might basically be a vote of confidence within the Chinese language financial system and ship the message that France is just not on board with the U.S. method.”
Von der Leyen has mentioned the EU should reduce dangers in ties with Beijing, together with limiting Chinese language entry to delicate know-how and decreasing reliance for key inputs reminiscent of crucial minerals, in addition to batteries, photo voltaic panels and different clear tech merchandise.
Macron invited von der Leyen on the journey as a approach to undertaking European unity, after French officers criticised German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for going solo to China late final 12 months.
He has pushed the EU to be extra sturdy in commerce relations with China and is broadly supportive of von der Leyen’s stance, Macron advisers mentioned, however the French chief has publicly avoided utilizing robust anti-China rhetoric, Beijing being vulnerable to bilateral retaliatory measures.
Past commerce, each have mentioned they wish to persuade China to make use of its affect over Russia to carry peace in Ukraine, or no less than forestall Beijing from immediately supporting its ally.
“Each (Macron and von der Leyen) haven’t solely enterprise in thoughts but additionally Ukraine,” mentioned Joerg Wuttke, president of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China.
“I am positive it is not going to be a simple go to.”
China earlier this 12 months proposed a 12-point peace plan for the Ukraine disaster, which known as on either side to conform to a gradual de-escalation resulting in a complete ceasefire.
However the plan was largely dismissed by the West resulting from China’s refusal to sentence Russia, and the U.S. and NATO then mentioned China was contemplating sending arms to Russia, claims which Beijing has denied.
UKRAINE ON THE MIND
Suspicions over China’s motives solely deepened after President Xi Jinping flew to Moscow for conferences with Vladimir Putin final month in his first abroad go to since securing a precedent-breaking third time period as president.
Macron has mentioned he’s additionally eager to emphasize to Xi, who he’ll meet alongside von der Leyen on Thursday, that Europe is not going to settle for China offering arms to Russia.
“Contemplating China’s proximity with Russia, it is apparent it is among the few nations, if not the one one, which may have a game-changing impact on the battle, in a method or one other,” one in every of Macron’s advisors mentioned forward of the journey.
In a gathering with Xi in Beijing final week, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez mentioned he had inspired the Chinese language chief to speak to the Ukrainian management and be taught first-hand about Kyiv’s peace system.
Macron and von der Leyen are anticipated to echo the message that Xi also needs to speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
After brokering a shock detente between Iran and Saudi Arabia final month, China has been wanting to current itself as a worldwide peacemaker and a substitute for america, which it says is fanning flames by sending weapons to Ukraine.
The talks with European leaders come amid excessive pressure with the U.S. over points starting from Taiwan to bans on semiconductor exports, and China is keen that Europe doesn’t comply with what it sees as a U.S-led effort to comprise its rise.
Taking intention at von der Leyen’s feedback final week on the dangers of commerce with China, the state-run Chinese language nationalist mouthpiece World Instances warned on Monday that Europe would endure from any try to chop financial ties with Beijing.
“The EU is in a troublesome wrestle as it’s underneath nice strain from the U.S. to regulate its financial relations with China. China and EU decoupling will solely serve U.S. pursuits, however make each China and Europe endure,” it mentioned.
However except for some laborious speak on Ukraine and commerce tensions, the journey may also serve up some lighter alternatives to show what Macron’s advisor mentioned was an try to “reset” diplomatic and financial relations with China.
On Friday, Xi will accompany Macron on a visit to the sprawling southern port of Guangzhou, the place the primary French ship reached Chinese language shores within the seventeenth century and the place France opened its first consulate.
After assembly college students there, Macron will attend a non-public dinner and tea ceremony with the Chinese language chief who additionally has sentimental attachment to town as his late father, Xi Zhongxun, used to work there as provincial first secretary.
“We imagine that this (journey) has very massive symbolic significance and means that (France) is able to relaunch cooperation with China,” Henry Huiyao Wang, president of the Centre for China and Globalisation, a Beijing-based assume tank.