France's Macron begins China trip with Ukraine, trade on agenda

French President Emmanuel Macron (C) disembarks from the presidential plane at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing on April 5, 2023. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

Beijing, China -- French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for a visit in which he hopes to dissuade China from supporting Russia's invasion of Ukraine, while also forging closer ties with a crucial trade partner.

Macron will look to stand firm on Ukraine during talks with his counterpart Xi Jinping and offer "another path" from the directly confrontational tone often heard from Washington, an official from his office told reporters ahead of the three-day trip.

The French leader's aims include preserving and rebalancing China's trade ties with Europe as well as safeguarding French interests in the Asia-Pacific region, where Paris sees itself as a player due to its overseas territories and military deployments.

On the eve of his visit, Macron discussed his trip to China and support for Ukraine during a phone call with US President Joe Biden, the White House said.

The two leaders said they want China to help "accelerate" the search for a solution to the war, according to a French diplomatic source.

The conversation showed the "common will of France and the United States to engage the Chinese to accelerate with us the end of the war in Ukraine and build a lasting peace", the source said.

The US and French presidents also hope to "obtain from the Chinese a contribution to the global effort of North-South solidarity" and to build "a common agenda" on climate and biodiversity.

Macron landed in Beijing around 3:15 pm (0715 GMT), the Elysee Palace and Chinese state media said.

He is set to meet French residents in the capital before talks on Thursday with Chinese leaders and a state dinner in the evening.

On Friday he will travel to Guangzhou in southern China to meet local students, taking with him a broad delegation of top politicians, business leaders and even celebrities, including composer Jean-Michel Jarre.

- 'Nerve centre' -

Macron's visit -- his first in four years -- coincides with a flashpoint meeting between Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California on Wednesday.

Beijing has said it would "closely monitor the situation and firmly defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity", and warned Republican McCarthy that he would be "playing with fire" by meeting Tsai.

China claims democratic Taiwan as part of its territory to be retaken one day, by force if necessary.

The presence of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who met Macron in Paris on Monday to coordinate preparations, is a clear sign the trip will ripple beyond France across the entire 27-nation European Union.

In a speech last week, von der Leyen cautioned Beijing against direct support for the war in Ukraine, while ruling out the EU "decoupling" from China.

© Agence France-Presse

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