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Published 15:46 IST, May 6th 2024

Macron Sets Ukraine as Top Priority as China’s Xi Jinping Pays a State Visit to France

Macron’s office said talks about diplomatic efforts to support Ukraine and put pressure on Russia are a top priority for France.

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FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and France's President Emmanuel Macron talk prior to a tea ceremony at the Guandong province governor's residence in Guangzhou, China, on April 7, 2023. | Image: (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, Pool, File)
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Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron will press China's Xi Jinping to use his influence to move Russia toward ending the war in Ukraine during a two-day state visit to France. The leaders are also expected to discuss trade disputes over electric cars, cognac and cosmetics.

Macron’s office said talks about diplomatic efforts to support Ukraine and put pressure on Russia are a top priority for France. Discussions will also include the Middle East, trade issues and global challenges including climate change. The European Commission president will join part of the meetings to raise broader EU concerns.

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France is the first stop on a European trip by Xi aimed at rebuilding relations at a time of global tensions. After France on Monday and Tuesday, the Chinese leader will head to Serbia and Hungary.

France hopes the discussions will help convince China to use its leverage with Moscow to ‘’contribute to a resolution of the conflict" in Ukraine, according to a French presidential official. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced plans to visit China this month.

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Macron will press Xi over supplies from Chinese companies supporting the Russian war effort despite EU sanctions, he said. China claims neutrality in the Ukraine conflict.

FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and France's President Emmanuel Macron talk prior to a tea ceremony at the Guandong province governor's residence in Guangzhou, China, on April 7, 2023. French President Emmanuel Macron will seek to press China's Xi Jinping to use his influence to move Russia toward ending the war in Ukraine during a two-day state visit to France. Both leaders were also expected to discuss trade disputes over electric cars, cognac and cosmetics. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, Pool, File)

France also wants China to maintain a dialogue with Kyiv, added the official, who was not authorized to be identified according to presidential policy.

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Last year, Macron appealed to Xi to “bring Russia to its senses," but the call was not followed by any apparent change in Beijing's stance.

“French authorities are pursuing two objectives that are ultimately contradictory," Marc Julienne, director of the Center for Asian Studies at the French Institute of International Relations, wrote in a briefing note. “On the one hand, to convince Xi that it's in his interest to help Europeans to put pressure on Vladimir Putin to end the war and, on the other hand, to dissuade the Chinese president from delivering arms to his Russian friend.

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“In short, we think that Xi can help us, but at the same time we fear that he could help Putin,” Julienne wrote.

As France prepares to host the Summer Olympics, Macron said he would ask Xi to use his influence to make the Games “a diplomatic moment of peace” and respect the Olympic Truce.

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Macron, a strong advocate of Europe’s economic sovereignty, is expected to focus on trade too. He will raise French concerns about a Chinese antidumping investigation into cognac and other European brandy, and tensions over French cosmetics and other sectors.

In a recent speech, he denounced trade practices of both China and the U.S. as shoring up protections and subsidies.

On Monday in Paris, Xi will first join a meeting with Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“Europe cannot accept such market distorting practices that could lead to deindustrialization in Europe,” von der Leyen said in a statement ahead of the meeting. “We have to act to make sure that competition is fair and not distorted."

Macron has coordinated with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who recently visited China and came to Paris last week for a private dinner with the French president.

German government spokesperson Wolfgang Buechner said Friday that Scholz in China had “clearly said that the question of over-capacity and competition though subsidies needs to be addressed."

The EU launched an investigation last fall into Chinese subsidies and could impose tariffs on electric vehicles exported from China.

The discussions will also be closely watched from Washington, just one month before President Joe Biden is expected to pay his own state visit to France.

Xi's visit to Paris marks the 60th anniversary of France-China diplomatic relations, and follows Macron’s trip to China in April 2023. Macron prompted controversy on that trip after he said France wouldn’t blindly follow the U.S. in getting involved in crises that are not of its concern, an apparent reference to China’s demands for unification with Taiwan.

Several groups including International Campaign for Tibet and France’s Human Rights League urged Macron to put human rights issues at the heart of his talks with Xi. Protesters demonstrated in Paris as Xi arrived Sunday, calling for a free Tibet.

Amnesty International called on Macron to demand the release of Uyghur economics professor Ilham Tohti, who was jailed for life in 2014 on charges of promoting separatism, and other imprisoned activists.

On Monday morning, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders staged a protest in front of the Arc de Triomphe monument to denounce Xi's visit, calling the Chinese president “one of the greatest predators of press freedom” as the group says 119 journalists are imprisoned in the country.

Macron said in an interview published Sunday that he will raise human rights concerns.

Monday's welcome ceremony is to take place at the Invalides monument before bilateral talks at the Elysee presidential palace. Macron and Xi will conclude a nearby French-Chinese economic forum and then join their wives for a state dinner.

The second day of the visit is meant to be a more personal moment.

Macron has invited Xi to visit Tuesday the Tourmalet Pass in the Pyrenees mountains, where the French leader spent time as a child to see his grandmother. The trip is meant to be a reciprocal gesture after Xi took Macron last year to the residence of the governor of Guangdong province, where his father once lived.

15:46 IST, May 6th 2024