Juncker, Macron and Merkel join forces to balance the relationship with China



The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the leaders of France and Germany, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, showed a united front on Tuesday against the investment ambition of Beijing to demand the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, reciprocity in the bilateral relations.

Their meeting in the Elysee, promoted by Macron, sought to present itself as a strong interlocutor before the Asian giant and try to channel Peking's appetite through the community block, at a time when countries like Italy have already been tempted alone by projects like the New Silk Road.

Flanked by Merkel and Juncker, Macron received Xi on the third and final day of his state trip to France, which closes a European tour that began on Thursday in Italy and had a brief stop in Monaco on Sunday.

At the end of an hour of meeting, the three agreed that a strong Chinese-European partnership has to be based on clear, demanding and ambitious foundations.

"Obviously, there is no exercise of power without divergences, none of us is naive, but we respect China and we hope that it respects the unity of the European Union and its values," said the French head of state.

The meeting on Tuesday was an appetizer of the summit on April 9 between the EU and China, which the EU bloc qualifies as both a strategic partner and a systemic rival, but to which it admits that their mutual cooperation is important.

From this first discussion, Macron stressed having agreed on the need to build together a strong multilateralism on issues of peace, security and climate change.

Also in that the dialogue should be reinforced in the face of a common vision on the future of that multilateralism, of which the US president, Donald Trump, has distanced himself.

But the recognition that this joint work is necessary was not exempt from demands: "I want to establish a more articulated reciprocity between China and the EU than the current one," Juncker said, calling for Beijing to give community companies the same access to its markets that the block offers to Chinese companies.

Xi was asked specifically that this New Silk Road, a huge infrastructure project launched by China in 2013 to improve its connections with Europe, the Middle East and Africa, will benefit European interests.

"It is a very important project and as Europeans we want to play a role, but a certain reciprocity is necessary, which still costs us a bit to find," said Merkel, who at the end of the joint meeting held another bilateral meeting with Xi.

The Chinese president, in full search of investors for his gigantic plan, said not to oppose that principle, with ambiguous rhetoric: "The initiative of the Route has enriched the concept of multilateralism. (...) France and all the countries of the world are welcome. "

"The current relations between China and Europe are marked above all by cooperation, it is true that there are points of disagreement, also competition, but it is a positive competition," he added.

In a joint French-Chinese declaration on the preservation of multilateralism and the improvement of global governance, the two countries, permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, also showed a particular willingness to join forces against climate change.

Xi's visit to France coincides with the 55th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations and will be followed by another from Macron to China in the coming months.

Beyond political discussions, the trip has resulted in the signing of a long list of agreements or memoranda of understanding. The most outstanding is the order of 300 aircraft by the Chinese state aeronautical consortium CASC to the European aeronautical manufacturer Airbus, for about 28,000 million euros.

Marta Garde

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