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Xi goes on (short) European tour

​China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan disembark at Orly Airport, south of Paris, on May 5, 2024.

China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan disembark at Orly Airport, south of Paris, on May 5, 2024.


This week marks President Xi Jinping’s first trip to Europe in five years. The Chinese leader will only visit France, Serbia, and Hungary – three countries where he’s likely to find the friendliest ears – and meet with EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen to discuss trade tensions and China’s support for Russia in its war with Ukraine.

Xi, who landed in Paris on Sunday, will also have a tete-a-tete with Emanuel Macron for the second time in as many years. You’ll remember that the French president raised continental eyebrows last year with a state visit to Beijing, where he declared that Europe should not be drawn into a standoff between China and the US over Taiwan. Macron’s independent foreign policy approach left a positive impression on Beijing.

This time, the French leader is looking beyond tensions in the Taiwan Strait. He told The Economist that it’s “in our interest to get China to weigh in on the stability of the international order.” Xi seemed to agree, issuing a statement that Sino-French relations “have established a model for the international community of peaceful coexistence.”

The two will discuss trade and security, with France wanting increased access to the Chinese market for its agricultural exports and protection for intellectual property rights for the French cosmetic industry. Macron will reiterate that China should stop exporting dual-use goods that power Russia’s war in Ukraine.

But we’re not holding our breath for any positive signals on that since the Chinese leader will then visit Hungary and Serbia, two countries with close ties to Russia. Xi’s visit to Serbia will focus on deepening trade relations – and it happens to coincide with the 25th anniversary week of NATO’s fatal bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. In Hungary, Xi wants to cement his relationship with autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has stymied EU efforts to hold China to account on human rights issues.


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