Macron and Von der Leyen in China, Sisci: “The goal is to recalibrate the commercial relationship and put pressure on Putin”

“There could be room for cooperation, but it’s a very complex game, which cannot be done without Ukraine and the countries on the front line”.

“This double visit will not be a triumphal march. In some way, France and Europe are trying to recalibrate the economic-commercial relationship” with China – in a “moment of extreme tension” between Beijing and Washington and other Asian countries – in attempt “not to be found completely unprepared in the event of a Chinese slide”. Emmanuel Macron works to return to Paris with a “treasure trove of contracts”, while he is “under siege” in a France riven by pension reform. And “the hope is that both in the talks with Ursula von der Leyen and in those with Macron with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping a modus operandi will be found” whereby Beijing “can put further pressure or some pressure on Russia” in order to end to the conflict in Ukraine. Sinologist Francesco Sisci speaks from Beijing with Adnkronos shortly after the arrival in the Chinese capital of the French president, on his first visit to the Asian giant since 2019.

Talks with Xi, in his third term, are scheduled for tomorrow, as well as – after the signing of agreements between China and France – the trilateral agreement with the president of the European Commission. Talks that come after those that saw Spanish premier Pedro Sánchez engaged in Beijing last week and after Xi’s visit to Moscow by Putin, at the helm of a China that declares itself “neutral”. “It is not an easy visit – comments Sisci – there are still many pitfalls and uncertainties”.

Sisci reasons on the two aspects of the mission, the “political one on Russia” and the “economic-diplomatic” one. The hope of a pressure from Beijing on Russia, which has passed more than a year since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine after the Russian invasion, is part of the Chinese initiative and, the sinologist remarks, in the “12 points proposed from Beijing”, including the one on the “protection of the territorial integrity of a state”, a “somewhat vague concept” given the situation on the ground in Ukraine.

And, says the sinologist again, “in theory there could be room for cooperation” (Macron is convinced that China can “play an important role” in “finding a path to peace”), but it is “a very complex game” , that “it cannot be done without Ukraine (there have never been official declarations of contacts between Xi and Zelensky after the face-to-face between the Chinese leader and the head of the Kremlin) and from the countries that are in the very front line, such as Poland, the Baltics, Finland and America which bears the brunt of military aid” in Kiev. Before taking off for Beijing, the head of the Elysée spoke with US President Joe Biden, expressing “the common will to involve China in accelerating the end of the war in Ukraine and participating in the construction of a lasting peace in the region”.

For Macron, who will also go to Guangzhou with Xi, the “very important” aspect of the visit is “the economic question” because, Sisci insists, the French president is coming to Beijing “to sign important contracts”. Traveling with Macron – in addition to the foreign and finance ministers, Catherine Colonna and Bruno Le Maire – are company executives, including representatives of Airbus, the energy giant Edf and the French train giant Alstom.

There is talk of a possible agreement for the purchase by China of dozens of aircraft. And, thinking of EDF, the Sinologist also mentions the possibility of “contracts for the construction of new latest generation nuclear power plants”. It would be a “big victory” for Xi because, Sisci observes, any agreements “would give a breath of confidence to the Chinese economy which is emerging from almost three and a half years of closures due to the coronavirus pandemic”.

There is no shortage of critical issues. “Von der Leyen said, and Macron will probably also talk about this, that economic cooperation will need to be based on new parameters because there is fear in Europe of a technology leak”, underlines the sinologist, pointing out how “everything is very uncertain ” if you try to get into the concrete meaning of the “new parameters”.

Meanwhile, the meeting in California between the president of Taiwan (a de facto independent island that Beijing considers part of its territory and for which she is aiming for “reunification”) and Republican speaker Kevin McCarthy risks arousing further ire from Beijing.