China/France politics: Quick View - Macron’s China visit fails to clinch deals

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Economist Intelligence Unit
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International Relations, Politics, News Analysis, Forecast
Political Geography
China, France


On January 8th-10th the French president, Emmanuel Macron, paid a state visit to China and held talks with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.


Mr Macron posited France as a champion in the fight against climate change and a supporter of globalism and free trade, contrasting with the "America First" approach taken by the current US administration. Mr Macron and Mr Xi broadly agreed on the need to defend multilateralism and avoid a rise of protectionism, although without entering into the details of these rather vague topics. Pinning down the details of greater Sino-French co-operation has also proved difficult, given EU perceptions that China, while seeking open markets abroad, continues to protect its domestic industries.

Mr Macron indicated that the EU welcomes Chinese investment, but is seeking "balanced rules" to deal with mistrust concerning Chinese investment in strategic European sectors. In September 2017 EU regulators moved to screen foreign direct investment more aggressively. Mr Macron is also seeking greater market access for French companies in China, at a time when China faces a tricky economic restructuring. However, China pledged to open its market to French beef imports within six months-it is likely that this will require considerable follow-up efforts to ensure it is actually implemented.

Although the visit ended without the signing of any significant commercial deals, contrasting again with the US presidential visit in November 2017, talks are under way in at least two sectors. A European aviation company, Airbus, is in talks about an anticipated sales agreement for 100 or more of its A380 airliners. Areva, a French nuclear power company, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the China National Nuclear Corporation on the establishment of a nuclear waste processing plant in China. The final deal, which is financially crucial for Areva, is expected to be signed in the first quarter of this year.

Mr Macron indicated that the EU would co-operate on China's Belt and Road Initiative, which envisages infrastructure investment to connect global economies with China, but insisted that the initiative must be two-way and not subordinate other economies to China. The two presidents played up likely co-operation later this year on climate talks to be held in Poland.

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