President Xi Jinping’s European Tour: Key Takeaways for France-China Relations

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President Xi Jinping of China and President Emmanual Macron of France meet in Paris on May 6 during Xi’s European tour. (Kiran Ridley/Getty Images)

Amidst a time of high tensions between Europe and China, President Xi Jingping’s 5-day tour in Europe involved talks of trade, investment, Ukraine, and Gaza during state visits to France, Serbia, and Hungary. As the Chinese president’s first visit to Europe in five years, it marks the 60th anniversary of China’s diplomatic relations with France and the 75th anniversary with Hungary. And the reception was no short of fanfare. The president of France Emmannual Macron reportedly treated Xi to gifts of cognac, a trip to the Pyrenees mountain pass, and local delicacies of lamb and cheese in a show of personal contact. Hungarian president Tamas Sulyok rolled out a red carpet for Xi at the presidential palace, and gave him a ceremonial welcome with military honours. And in Serbia, President Aleksandar Vucic organized a massive crowd in front of the presidential palace to receive Xi, all chanting “China” and waving Chinese flags. 

The tour can be viewed as an effort by Xi to strengthen cooperative relations between the EU and China as part of China’s vision of a multipolar world. A recent uptick in China’s espionage activity in European capitals, and massive electric vehicle subsidies to outcompete European carmakers in the market have put pressure on the EU-China relationship. In addition, China’s continued trade with Russia despite the war in Ukraine have incited worries about the expansion of both Russia and China’s power. Europe’s role in the US-China rivalry and European unity over critical issues are also political backdrops of the trip.

So what were the key takeaways from each Xi’s state visit to France?


No apparent progress was made in terms of concessions on trade or Russia-Ukraine, despite Macron’s push for Xi to address the trade imbalance between the EU and China. The European Commission reports that in 2023, the EU trade deficit with China was a hefty €291 billion, which was already lower than the previous record high deficit in 2022. In an attempt to demonstrate European unity over the approach to China, Macron invited European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to join the initial talks with Xi, of whom has denounced Chinese “market manipulation” and launched anti-subsidy investigations into key Chinese products, most notably including green technology, security devices, and electric vehicles. The EU has raised concerns that China is engaging in anti-free trade pracitces by flooding the market with cheap, heavily subsidized electric vehicles that are diminishing fair market access for European companies in China. Tariffs on Chinese imports have been suggested as a possible response, as the United States recently implemented. However, Xi rejected claims regarding an excess capacity problem, and remains unyielding in his goals to maintain commercial success in those sectors. 

Macron and von der Leyen also pressed Xi about engaging in trade with Russia, including selling technologies and products that could bolster Russia’s military capacity. Despite China’s claims at neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, they’ve consistenly refused to outright condemn Russia’s invasion and instead capitalized on the conflict as a key lifeline for the Russian economy in the face of heavy western sanctions. At the meeting however, China doubled down on their position of neutrality and pushed back against allegations by reinforcing calls for peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. Furthermore, both countries agreed to call for a military truce in the Middle East, Ukraine, and other conflicts during the Paris summer Olympics.

China also used the visit to try and drive a wedge between the US and France, and recruit France as a key partner in a multipolar world. With Macron’s talks of “strategic autonomy,” China sees France as a point of weakness in European unity. In fact, Macron has previously stated that Europe must develop stronger defense against Russia and not just submit as a “vassal of the United States.” Despite France  framing itself as bridge between the West and the Global South, though, Macron appears to be going back on his previous statement about a US led collective strategy, and reiterated the closeness of France’s alliance with the US compared to with China.  

Despite the lack of any real concessions, Xi’s visit still served symbolic purpose in stabilizing EU-China ties and doing damage control on trade relations, especially as the EU threatens economic retaliation. But with China’s refusal to compromise on trade or foreign policy, and cracks in European unity, especially seen in the Serbian and Hungarian legs of the trip, Xi’s visit may be a warning sign of a growing power that threatens to divide the Western world and challenge the current world order. 

Written by Emilie Fann

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