PARIS (AFP) - Chinese President Xi Jinping yesterday stressed the growing convergence between Beijing and the European Union on global issues from climate change to trade, urging the two sides to overcome
At a meeting in Paris between Xi, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, the leaders declared their desire to work together.
“Of course there are differences and competition, but it’s positive competition,” Xi told a joint press conference. “We are advancing together. We shouldn’t let suspicions lead us to be constantly looking backwards.”
European and Chinese leaders have both faced challenges from US President Donald Trump’s America-first nationalism and his attacks on international agreements covering global warming, trade or Iran’s nuclear programme.
In a joint statement issued at the end of Xi’s three-day trip to France, the Chinese leader and Macron both committed to working together to promote a rules-based international order.
“France and China consider that in the current context, committing to multilateralism is the best way of promoting international cooperation at a time when risks and common challenges are multiplying,” they said.
Merkel sounded a note of caution about how much the EU and China could achieve on their own, however.
“There can’t be multilateralism without the United States,” she said.
Though the leaders emphasised multiple areas where China, France and the EU would work together, there remain underlying tensions in the relationship -- the source of the “suspicions” that Xi referred to.
This month, the European Commission labelled China a “systemic rival” and presented a 10-point plan proposing a more assertive relationship with Beijing, which Macron welcomed as a belated awakening.
Among other risks, the commission warned about the distorting effects of Chinese subsidies to its industrial groups, and European firms being forced to transfer technology to their Chinese subsidiaries.
Juncker felt compelled to start his public comments at the joint press conference in Paris by saying: “I am a friend of China.”
But Merkel too raised the vexed issue of “reciprocity” in terms of trade and investments, meaning China should offer more opportunities to European firms in its domestic market and in Chinese-funded projects abroad.
Europe wants pledges from China that its vast “Belt and Road” project -- huge investments in rail and road infrastructure in countries from Asia to Europe, also known as the new “Silk Road”-- will be carried out in partnership with the EU.
The initiative is a “very important project” and “we, Europeans, want to play a role,” Merkel said at the joint press conference.