French President Emmanuel Macron was all business on the second day of his trip to China, calling on Europe to be better coordinated for trade with China and for Beijing to allow greater access to its markets.
Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping also witnessed the signing of a series of commercial deals on Tuesday, including the launch of a third-generation EPR nuclear reactor in China.
In talks between the two leaders, Xi said China and France should step up cooperation in international affairs.
Macron has emerged as a strong voice in Europe in the absence of German or British leadership – German Chancellor Angela Merkel is bogged down in coalition talks and British Prime Minister Theresa May is swamped by her country’s negotiations to leave the European Union.
“I am here to tell you that France is back,” he said, addressing business representatives from the two countries at SOHO 3Q, a co-working space for start-ups.
He stressed that France would lead the charge to build a strong EU in the face of competition from the United States and China.
Macron called for more access to China’s markets but also offered to open up France to Chinese investment.
He said there was a lack of balance in the investment relationship between the two countries, with China investing much less in France. The trade imbalance was even worse, he said, with France having a €30 billion (US$36 billion) deficit.
“We should not reduce openness because of fear,” he said. “China should give more market access to France, and France should open more to Chinese investment.”
But he added that limits on Chinese investment in some “strategic industries” was neither protectionism nor distrust of China, but a matter of economic sovereignty, which China should also understand.
The president brought with him executives from more than 50 big French companies, including Airbus, BNP Paribas, AccorHotels, and LVMH.
Among the agreements signed was a deal between French engineering firm Fives and Chinese online retail giant JD.com to set up a logistics centre in France to source French food and luxury products for sale online in China. JD.com also agreed to sell €2 billion worth of French products in the next two years, including high-end wine and cognac.
Airbus signed a memorandum of understanding to expand cooperation in the aeronautical industry in Tianjin, while power group Areva signed an agreement with China National Nuclear Corporation for a nuclear waste reprocessing plant.
In a closed-door meeting with a group of Chinese tycoons, including Alibaba’s Jack Ma, Fosun’s Guo Guangchang and SOHO China’s Pan Shiyi, Macron said Chinese investment was very welcome in his country.
But Pan later said some Chinese firms hesitated to take up the offer because of Europe’s high taxes.
Macron also expressed France’s interest in playing a part in Xi’s New Silk Road infrastructure and trade plans, but stressed that any move must be equal, sustainable, socially responsible and environmentally friendly.
He also met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang.
Earlier in the day Macron and his wife Brigitte visited the Forbidden City accompanied by students from the French International School of Beijing.