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AFP
March 25, 2019

Xi arrives on French Riviera as Macron seeks united EU front on China

World

AFP
March 25, 2019

MONACO: Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Monaco on the French Riviera Sunday seeking to press ambitious commercial goals ahead of talks with France's Emmanuel Macron who is trying to forge a united European front to contend with Beijing's advances.

Xi arrived at the airport of the iconic resort city of Nice accompanied by his wife Peng Liyuan to be welcomed by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and an honour guard. Prior meeting with Macron Xi went to the nearby principality of Monaco, where he was received by Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene.

A Monaco government spokesman said bilateral talks would "address economic and environmental issues". Xi, who has made establishing China as a global player central to his government, travelled from Italy, whose government became the first G7 state to sign up to his landmark new "Silk Road" infrastructure project, a massive undertaking to join Asia to Europe.

The project has raised eyebrows in Washington and in some EU capitals where critics say it will give China too much sway. Xi says it would be a two-way street of investment and trade.

Earlier, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas criticised Italy over its participation in the new Silk Road project. "In a world with giants like China, Russia or our partners in the United States, we can only survive if we are united as the EU. And if some countries believe that they can do clever business with the Chinese, then they will be surprised when they wake up and find themselves dependant," Maas told Welt am Sonntag newspaper. "China is not a liberal democracy," he added. Amid tight security, Xi and his wife were Sunday evening to join Macron and his wife for a private dinner at nearby Beaulieu-sur-Mer overlooking the Mediterranean during which they would have what a Chinese official termed "a deep exchange of views on Sino-French, Sino-European relations and international and issues of mutual interest."

Xi's official visit to Paris on Monday will mark 55 years since Charles de Gaulle established diplomatic relations with Beijing. A series of cooperation deals on nuclear power, aerospace and clean energy initiatives, some involving lucrative contracts, are expected to be signed. On Tuesday, Macron and Xi will be joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker to explore "points of convergence" ahead of an EU-China summit in Brussels next month. But Xi's visit poses a particular challenge for Macron, who wants to deepen EU ties with China while also pushing back against Beijing's growing global clout.

Europe's distrust of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, which is poised to become the dominant player in next-generation 5G mobile technology worldwide, is emblematic of the increasingly rocky relationship.

Monaco, which notably is eyeing a share of Chinese luxury tourism and has its own foreign policy, only last year signed an accord with Huawei to make the principality the first country entirely covered by the company's 5G mobile network by year end.

Macron has lauded the EU's "awakening" to the challenges posed by China, which the bloc now labels a "rival" despite being Europe's biggest trading partner. "The reality is that the world has changed significantly -- China is not the country it once was, and we are dealing with a very major partner," a Macron aide said ahead of Xi's visit.

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