Xi Jinping arrived in Paris on Sunday, where his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron intends to advocate trade “reciprocity” and the search for a resolution to the war in Ukraine, in the face of a Chinese president who continues to show his support for Russia.

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in France on Sunday, on a state visit hosted by Emmanuel Macron where the French leader will seek to push his counterpart on issues ranging from Ukraine to trade.

Xi’s arrival for the visit marking 60 years of diplomatic relations between France and China heralded the start of his first trip to Europe since 2019, which will also see him visit Serbia and Hungary.

But Xi’s choice of France as the sole major European power to visit indicates the relative warmth in Sino-French relations since Macron made his own state visit to China in April 2023, and acknowledges the French leader’s stature as a European Union powerbroker.

The leader of the one-party Communist state of more than 1.4 billion people, accompanied by his wife Peng Liyuan, was welcomed under umbrellas at a drizzly Paris Orly airport by Prime Minister Gabriel Attal.

Xi is to hold a day of talks in Paris on Monday – also including EU Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen – followed by a state banquet hosted by Macron at the Élysée.

Tuesday will see Macron take Xi to the Pyrenees mountains, to an area he used to visit as a boy for a day of less public and more intimate talks.

Quoted on arrival in Paris by the Xinhua state news agency, Xi said the development of China-France relations had “injected stability and positive energy into the turbulent world” and China was ready to “enhance political mutual trust, build strategic consensus and deepen exchanges” during the visit.

Stability of international order

A key priority of Macron will be to warn Xi of the danger of backing Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, with Western officials concerned Moscow is already using Chinese machine tools in arms production.

Beijing’s ties with Moscow have, if anything, warmed after the invasion, and the West wants China above all not to supply weapons to Russia and risk tipping the balance in the conflict.

“It is in our interest to get China to weigh in on the stability of the international order,” said Macron in an interview with The Economist published on Thursday.

“We must, therefore, work with China to build peace,” he added.

Macron also said in the same Economist interview that Europe must defend its “strategic interests” in its economic relations with China, accusing Beijing of not respecting the rules on international trade.

But he acknowledged in an interview with La Tribune Dimanche newspaper that Europeans are “not unanimous” on the strategy to adopt as “certain actors still see China essentially as a market of opportunities” while it “exports massively” to Europe.

The French president had gladdened Chinese state media and troubled some EU allies after his 2023 visit by declaring that Europe should not be drawn into a standoff between China and the United States, particularly over democratic, self-ruled Taiwan.

China views the island as part of its territory and has vowed to take it one day, by force if necessary.

“The worst thing would be to think that we Europeans must be followers and adapt ourselves to the American rhythm and a Chinese overreaction,” Macron said at the time, warning against a “bloc versus bloc logic.”

Two core messages

Rights groups are urging Macron to bring up human rights in the talks, accusing China of failing to respect the rights of the Uyghur Muslim minority and keeping dozens of journalists behind bars.

“President Macron should make it clear to Xi Jinping that Beijing’s crimes against humanity come with consequences for China’s relations with France,” said Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch.

The group said human rights in China had “severely deteriorated” under Xi’s rule.

However analysts are sceptical that Macron will be able to exercise much sway over the Chinese leader, even with the lavish red carpet welcome and a trip to the bracing mountain airs of the Col du Tourmalet over 2,000 metres (6,560 feet) above sea level on Tuesday.

The other two countries chosen by Xi for his tour, Serbia and Hungary, are seen as among the most sympathetic to Moscow in Europe.

Stuart Williams, with AFP