Macron’s fruitful visit shows resuming all-level exchanges ‘main tone’ of 2023 China-EU ties
Resuming all-level exchanges ‘main tone’ after Macron’s fruitful visit
Published: Apr 08, 2023 12:33 AM
Chinese President Xi Jinping holds an informal meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Songyuan, Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province on April 7. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping holds an informal meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Songyuan, Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province on April 7. Photo: Xinhua

European leaders were wrapping up their three-day visit to China after Chinese and French top leaders met for informal talks in southern China's Guangzhou on Friday, marking the climax in high-level interactions between China and Europe. The visit also helped stabilize relations amid growing turbulence and uncertainties that the world is facing and reset the cooperation as well as face-to-face interaction, as China reached some consensus with both France and the EU on major global and regional issues, including the Ukraine crisis. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping met French President Emmanuel Macron in Guangzhou's Songyuan on Friday afternoon and had an informal meeting with the French leader. 

Xi said that over the past two days, the two sides have had in-depth and high quality exchanges in Beijing and Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province, increased understanding and mutual trust, and clarified the direction for future cooperation between China and France at bilateral and international levels. 

"I am glad that we share many common or similar views on China-France, China-EU relations as well as many international and regional issues, reflecting the high level and strategic nature of China-French relations," Xi said, noting that he is willing to continue maintaining strategic communication and advance China-France comprehensive strategic partnership to a new high level. 

Macron said the visit was very successful and yielded fruitful results, which will help advance France-China relations for more progress. The French leader said he is willing to maintain close strategic communication with Xi, and welcomes Xi to visit France in 2024. 

The two sides also released a joint declaration on Friday, vowing to enhance political dialogues and boost political mutual trust, jointly promote global security and stability, advance economic exchanges and restart people-to-people exchanges and jointly tackle global challenges. 



"Such high-level reception to Macron during his visit also showed our diplomatic courtesy, and that our deeds accord with our words," Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Friday. 

China values France's tradition of independence and its important role in advancing the multi-polar world, and that respect was underscored by the hospitality he received in China, Cui said. 

While EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock are reportedly planning to travel to China in coming weeks following the visit of Macron and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen this week, Chinese experts believe that more European officials coming to China also show that China's wisdom and solutions are winning more people over, and "the main tone" of China-EU relations this year is stabilizing relations, resuming all-level exchanges and turning those consensus into actions. 

The three-day visit not only resulted in fruitful business deals in the fields of transport, energy, agriculture, culture and science, but also provided guidance for the future direction of China-France and China-EU relations, as leaders of both sides sought a more reasonable way of co-existing in the post-pandemic era and amid the Ukraine crisis, despite differences and competitions, experts said.  



Cooperation remains priority

"It's very rare to see several EU officials come to visit China within one month, which also showed that Europe has a strong will to safeguard and develop its relations with China, although there are some different voices within the bloc," Cui said, noting that it's important to stabilize relations through such high-level interactions and reset some principles for cooperation, turning those consensuses into practice this year. 

During Friday's meeting, Xi outlined China's modernization drive and welcomed the French side to actively participate in the Canton Fair, the China International Import Expo and the China International Fair for Trade in Services to further explore the Chinese market. 

Although there is both cooperation and competition, there are essential differences between China-EU and China-US relations. China and the US are seeking cooperation in rivalry, but China and the EU need to properly handle their competition in cooperation. The visit by Macron and von der Leyen sent a signal that despite increased competition and differences, cooperation is still the priority, Wang Shuo, a professor at the School of International Relations of Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times on Friday. 

"Both sides hope to build a relatively favorable external environment, which is the main reason for reaching the consensus and agreement," Wang said. 

Over the past few years, China-EU relations have been experiencing some difficult times, especially when the US exerted more influence on the continent and even tied Europe to its chariot in confronting Russia in the Ukraine crisis. 

"China-EU relations had been kidnapped by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and by the Taiwan question, but we have dismissed some misunderstandings now and dispelled some concerns during the meetings with European leaders," Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Friday. 

After China released a 12-point position paper on political settlement of the Ukraine crisis and the Chinese leader visited Russia, it has become much clearer to Europe that the US won't resolve the crisis but will only fuel the fire, Wang said. He added that Europe felt disappointed by this and now pins its hopes on China, which it believes can play a positive role in helping resolve the crisis. 



Ukraine crisis 'key focus'

During the meeting between Xi and Macron on Friday, the Chinese leader said the cause of the Ukraine crisis is complex and an immediate ceasefire is in line with the interests of the relevant parties and the world, adding that a political settlement is the only correct way out. 

China won't handle the issue for its own interests, but always stands on the side of justice and fairness. Xi said China welcomes the solutions proposed by France on the political settlement, and is willing to support it, and play a constructive role. 

Following the China-France-EU trilateral talks on Thursday, von der Leyen said the Chinese leader expressed willingness to speak to the Ukrainian leader when the time is right, according to media reports. Commenting on the matter, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said on Friday that on the Ukraine issue, China maintains communication with all relevant parties, including Ukraine. 

Europe's attitude toward China on the Ukraine crisis has been changing over the past year. Initially, it hoped that China could maintain the same position as Europe by condemning Russia or sanctioning it, but then followed the US rhetoric by asking China not to supply weapons to Russia or help it overcome sanctions, Cui Hongjian noted. 

"After China stressed that a nuclear war cannot be fought and clarified our stance on the matter through a position paper, Europe realized that China's practical role has helped reduce the risks of nuclear war," he said, noting that the political room for China-EU cooperation in solving the Ukraine crisis has opened and they need to find more space to take future joint steps. 

It is difficult for some European countries to abandon their prejudice and previous mentality to agree with China, an Asian country, in mediating the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Cui Heng, an assistant research fellow from the Center for Russian Studies of East China Normal University, told the Global Times on Friday.

"But they have realized that under the global geopolitical changes, the US is not the only center of power, as China's international influence has been witnessed. More countries have started to support China's proposal to promote negotiations," he said.