China’s Xi Jinping has given French President Emmanuel Macron an unusually lavish welcome on a state visit, which is seen as a sign of Beijing’s growing offensive to woo key allies within the European Union to counter the United States. In this context, Xi is trying to work with any country, especially mid or big powers, like France, to counter the U.S. Such forays by Xi with visiting leaders are rare and this underlines the importance Beijing attaches to this relationship with a key member of the EU as it looks for support against what Xi has called “all-round containment, encirclement and suppression” by the U.S.
Xi’s strategy of wooing Macron
Macron travelled to China with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, both pressuring China on Ukraine, but failing to wrest any public shifts in position from Xi. Still, Macron was given the full red carpet treatment. Von der Leyen cut a sometimes forlorn figure in Beijing, with a low-key greeting at the airport and not being invited to some state functions with Xi and Macron. China’s state-backed Global Times newspaper said in an editorial on Thursday: “It is clear to everyone that being a strategic vassal of Washington is a dead end. Making the China-France relationship a bridge for China-Europe cooperation is beneficial to both sides and to the world.” Macron is considered by diplomats to be an important driver of key policies within the EU, and in this sense, he is perhaps Beijing’s most important partner in Europe. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a former French prime minister who has travelled extensively to China, told Reuters that some of Xi’s charm was having an effect. “Isn’t diplomacy, at one point or another, a bit of flattery?” he said. “There’s always a bit of that in human relations. Each side plays with that.”
U.S. Scepticism towards China’s diplomatic engagement with France
Washington is taking a wait-and-see approach to the European engagements with Beijing over Ukraine. Beyond Ukraine, China would relish a realignment that draws it closer to Europe economically as relations with the United States fray, but such a shift is unlikely at this point, say sources familiar with the U.S. government’s thinking. Macron gave Xi a series of gifts – denouncing decoupling as a trap, bringing a huge business delegation along, and reaffirming his support for strategic autonomy – without getting much of anything in return. China’s wooing of Macron is part of a flurry of diplomatic moves this year as it attempts to wriggle out of containment by the United States amid differences over Taiwan, the Ukraine war and U.S. led restrictions on technology exports. China upped its diplomatic spending by 12.2 percent this year, and leaders and senior officials from Singapore, Malaysia, Spain and Japan have visited over the past few weeks.
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