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China’s president arrives in Europe to reinvigorate ties at a time of global tensions

PARIS — Chinese President Xi Jinping kicked off a three-country trip to Europe on Sunday with the continent divided over how to deal with Beijing’s growing power and the U.S.-China rivalry.

European carmakers are losing ground to subsidized Chinese electric vehicles. Diplomats fret about alleged Chinese spies in European capitals. And China’s continued defense trade with Russia worries anyone in Europe who supports war-ravaged Ukraine and fears that the Russian army won’t stop there.

But Europe and China have hefty economic ties — EU-China trade is estimated at 2.3 billion euros per day — and Xi appears determined to rebuild and deepen relations with European leaders after a prolonged absence prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Xi starts Sunday in France, whose president wants Europe to have more economic and strategic independence from other world powers. Then the Chinese president heads to Serbia and Hungary, both seen as China-friendly and close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and recipients of substantial Chinese investment.

Xi’s trip will be closely watched in Washington for signs of diminishing European support for its key foreign policy goals. At the same time, there’s increasing uncertainty in Europe about future U.S. support for trans-Atlantic allies.

Xi is being greeted at Paris’ Orly Airport by French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal – and by protests by groups demanding that France pressure China to respect Tibetan and Uyghur rights. Activists seeking a free Tibet attempted to unfurl a banner Saturday beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and protested in the French capital around the same time as Xi’s plane landed.

On Monday French President Emmanuel Macron will treat the Chinese leader to formal honors of a full state visit. They will also meet with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who is expected to join Macron in pushing for fairer trade policies and for China to use its leverage with Russia to push it toward ending the war in Ukraine.

The EU launched an investigation last fall into Chinese subsidies and could impose tariffs on electric vehicles exported from China.

China claims neutrality in the Ukraine conflict but has refused to call the full-blown Russian assault on its neighbor an invasion, and has been accused of bolstering Russia’s capacity to produce weapons.

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