What do Macron and von der Leyen want from China?
French President Emmanuel Macron has travelled to China together with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, where they will meet with President Xi Jinping. In a speech prior to the meeting, Macron praised the Chinese peace initiative for Ukraine and stressed that Europe must continue to promote dialogue with China because it would be a mistake to leave it to Russia. Most commentators stress that dialogue is also in Beijing’s interest.
More convincing as a duo
It was clever of Macron to bring the President of the European Commission along, Les Echos comments:
“François Hollande tells this anecdote: When he meets foreign leaders, Xi Jinping asks the following: How many inhabitants does your country have? In doing so he reminds them that he governs 1.3 billion people and therefore carries infinitely more weight. ... So it’s a good idea for the Élysée to have asked Ursula von der Leyen to come with him to Beijing. Together they count more (although you can never be sure) when it comes to convincing the Chinese president to be more moderate in his support for Vladimir Putin. ... It is also a way to dissuade China from trying to divide the Europeans among themselves.”
EU more important than Russia
The French president needs to convince the leadership in Beijing that Moscow is the wrong partner, advises The Irish Times:
“Macron’s advisers say that the president sees China as the only country capable of having a ‘radical and immediate impact’ on the Ukraine conflict and that the Chinese view of the war has yet definitively to crystalise. That should allow France space to prise it away from Russia, the French say, specifically on the delivery of weapons. .. Macron’s challenge will be to convince Xi that China has more to gain economically and politically by strengthening its links with the dynamic and wealthy markets of Europe, rather than with a failing autocrat in Moscow.”
The numbers speak for themselves
Beijing’s expressions of friendship with Moscow should not be overrated, Radio Kommersant FM also stresses:
“It would be highly disadvantageous for Beijing to openly quarrel with the West. Why? Because China’s economy is export-dependent. The latest statistics for 2022 just came in: China’s trade turnover with the EU and the US, despite the obvious deterioration of relations — at times even on a personal level — was 1.6 trillion dollars — eight times more than that with Russia. ... The Old World is taking a soft stance in relations with China, without applying pressure. This is what Macron brings with him. ... That’s the way it is sometimes in life, and not only in politics: someone swears you undying friendship, but that doesn’t stop them from doing business with your enemy.”
Just don’t slam the door
Relations between China and Europe will remain distanced, La Stampa predicts:
“China and Europe are standing at a door that neither wants to close. And even if they disagree on how open it should remain, they are eager to see any sign that could serve as an excuse not to slam it shut. Emmanuel Macron and Ursula von der Leyen have arrived in Beijing with the declared goal of creating a distance between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. They will meet a China that wants to create distance between the EU and the US. They are all aware that the distances will remain, but no one wants to make them unbridgeable.”