EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron are set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday for talks that could set a course for future relations after years of strained ties.
Macron, who arrived in Beijing late Wednesday, told reporters that Europe must resist reducing trade and diplomatic ties with Beijing, which is at odds with the West over issues including Taiwan, sensitive technologies and China’s close ties with Russia.
Von der Leyen said ahead of her trip that Europe must “de-risk” its relations with Beijing, as China had shifted from an era of reform and opening to one of security and control.
Europe’s relations with China have soured in recent years, mainly because of an investment pact that stalled in 2021 and Beijing’s refusal to condemn Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
But emerging from years of sparse diplomatic activity as pandemic border controls largely shut the country off from the rest of the world, China is eager to ensure Europe does not follow what it sees as U.S.-led efforts to contain its rise.
For Macron’s visit at least, there are high expectations in Beijing.
“Macron’s visit is expected to produce concrete results in furthering economic and trade cooperation between China and France, as well as to increase political mutual trust,” state media outlet Global Times wrote in an editorial on Thursday.
“It is worth noting that various forces in Europe and the U.S. are paying close attention to Macron’s visit and exerting influence in different directions,” the Global Times wrote. “In other words, not everyone wants to see Macron’s visit to China go smoothly and successfully.”
Macron will first meet newly appointed Premier Li Qiang at the Great Hall of the People, before Li heads for a “working lunch” with von der Leyen, who will be on her first trip to China since becoming European Commission President in late 2019.
Later in the afternoon, Macron and von der Leyen will separately hold talks with President Xi Jinping before all three hold trilateral talks in the evening.
Both Macron and von der Leyen have said they want to persuade China to use its influence over Russia to bring peace in Ukraine, or at least deter Beijing from directly supporting Moscow in the conflict. Russia calls the invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation”.
But not everyone back home thinks that is a good signal to send.
“Three-quarters of the delegation are business leaders: the goal is first and foremost to sign contracts,” left-wing MEP Raphael Glucksmann wrote on Twitter ahead of Macron’s visit. “At a time the debate in Europe focuses on our suicidal dependency on China and Chinese interference, the message is inopportune.”