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Macron and Xi

“Makelong” visits China

19 January 2018

During his 8-10 January visit to China, the first by an EU leader since the 19th CCP Party Congress, President Macron ( 马克龙 “Makelong” in Chinese) made a strong plea for closer EU-China cooperation based on reciprocity.

Macron’s visit started in Xi’An, the departure point of the ancient Silk Road, and thus a highly symbolic choice to endorse Xi Jin Ping’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Whole welcoming Xi’s initiative, Macron warned that cooperation should not be “one-way”. Reciprocity and better access to the Chinese market were thus catchwords of Macron’s visit, as he seeks to reduce France’s trade deficit with China.

Bilateral trade and business ties ranked high on the agenda, as a number of agreements were signed covering aerospace, agriculture, e-commerce and culture. Areva’s European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) at the Taishan site was finally unveiled as a pilot project while Beijing ordered 184 Airbus A320 jets.

The Macron-Xi talks focused on international and regional security issues, such as the Korean peninsula, Syria, terrorism financing and climate change. After the One Planet Summit in Paris in December, which China attended, Macron proposed launching a Franco-Chinese year of ecological transition in 2018-2019.

When Macron announced in front of a packed audience of Chinese and French business and institutional leaders that “Europe is back!”, he seized the opportunity to present himself as Europe’s spokesman. “On behalf of the members of the European Union”, he said that the 21st century Europe-China relationship should be more balanced and based on a level-playing field. 

Macron’s visit was extensively covered by the Chinese media which underscored the benefits Beijing can draw from the French partnership in the current global context. As Germany and the UK are enmeshed in domestic issues, it seems clear that Beijing is shifting its focus towards France as the natural conduit for China into Europe. France is seen as a key stakeholder, given its permanent seat on the UNSC, its leading position in the EU and traditional independent stance vis à vis Washington.

In response to Macron’s strong pro-European plea, Beijing endorsed France’s push for European integration, as reflected in the Joint Declaration released after the visit.[1] However, while both leaders reiterated their support to multilateral commitments, convergences should not be overestimated, as they differ on the ultimate goals of the global governance.

Macron chose China as his first visit in Asia, in a move to put the Middle Kingdom on top of his foreign policy priorities in Asia. He also pledged to visit the country at least once every year to bolster not only bilateral ties, but also EU-China relations. Macron will also have to deliver on his campaign promises and diversify France’s partnerships in Asia. In this regard, his Asian policy will be assessed in light of his upcoming trips to India and South Korea later this year.

[1] “China reaffirms its support for the integration of the European Union.” Joint Declaration between the People’s Republic of China and the French Republic, 10/01/2018. URL: