French President Emmanuel Macron's first state visit to China begins Monday, as Chinese experts express hope the young and energetic leader will help enhance China-EU relations.
China attaches great importance to its relations with France, which has recently become a more prominent leader in Europe and global affairs, Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs of Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.
At the invitation of President Xi Jinping, Macron will pay a state visit to China from Monday to Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said Friday.
"This is Macron's first state visit to China, which is of important significance as it will carry on the past and open the future. During the visit, the two heads of state will comprehensively review and look into the future of China-France relations," and "bring the close and enduring China-France comprehensive strategic partnership to new heights," Geng said.
Macron is a symbol of the future for Europe and to some extent even representative of the West, Wang said. With Angela Merkel struggling to form a cabinet and Teresa May preoccupied with Brexit, Macron and France have moved to a more prominent position in Europe, he said.
"Both China and France are permanent members of the UN Security Council, and China-France relations extend far beyond their bilateralism and have global significance," Geng said at a press conference.
After Brexit, France will become the only nuclear power and the only permanent member of the UN Security Council in the EU. Compared to Merkel, young Macron represents the future of the EU and his visit also represents the pragmatic cooperation between China and the EU, Wang said. "France can help China explore more diplomatic space in the EU."
A delegation of 50 business executives, from nuclear giants EDF and Areva, aircraft maker Airbus and hotels group Accor, as well as representatives of the French beef, pork and milk lobbies are expected to travel with Macron. Airbus is in talks to sell 100 or more jetliners to China, Reuters reported on Friday.
"Although France's role and influence in the West has been suddenly enhanced due to Trump and Brexit, it doesn't mean France will dominate the Sino-French relationship," said Song Luzheng, a research fellow at the China Institute of Fudan University in Shanghai.
Apart from trade issues, jointly safeguarding globalization and free trade, cooperation on climate change and terrorism, Song says there are other issues Macron should consider. Making France the first major Western power to provide visa-free entry to Chinese tourists and declaring France a strong partner to promote the Belt and Road initiative are important issues, Song said.
Without such breakthroughs, "the visit would be just showing that the two countries have maintained their relationship and demonstrate their shared stance in safeguarding globalization and free trade to the US and the world," he said.
During the visit, Xi will host state events for Macron. Premier Li Keqiang and Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress Zhang Dejiang will also meet him separately. The two sides will exchange in-depth views on China-France relations and issues of common interest.
Apart from Beijing, Macron will also visit Xi'an, the capital city of Shaanxi Province.
Visiting Xi'an, an ancient capital of China, is a tradition of previous French presidents' state visits to China.
"Apart from showing respect to Chinese culture, the arrangement may also represent France's attitude to the Belt and Road initiative, because Xi'an is the origin of the ancient Silk Road," Wang said.