Photo: Reuters / Ludovic Marin

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains mired in uncertain coalition talks, following a devastating blow dealt to her mandate in recent elections, France’s leader has taken center stage.

Speaking in China’s ancient Tang dynasty capital city of Xi’an, Emanuel Macron called on European leaders to put aside concerns and support China’s efforts to develop trade.

“Our destinies are linked,” the French president was quoted by Deutsche Welle as saying, during an hour-long speech at the starting point of the historic Silk Road.

Tasked with the delicate mission of raising Europe’s concerns regarding trade and China’s Belt and Road Initiative, while attempting to sell 100 airbus jets, Macron came bearing a special gift for Xi.

“It mattered a lot for the president, even if it was very complicated to import a horse for sanitary reasons. It’s a symbol of French excellence,” Reuters reported an Elysee official as saying. Yes, Macron offered Chinese president Xi Jinping a horse. The gift, a cavalry horse of the French Republican Guard named Vesuvius, was an “unprecedented diplomatic gesture,” according to the French presidency.

Though Macron stressed the importance of cooperation, his speech also suggested he will raise contentious trade issues with Xi.

“After all, the ancient Silk Roads were never only Chinese,” he told the audience. “By definition, these roads can only be shared. If they are roads, they cannot be one-way.”

In a speech to French diplomats on Thursday, Macron defended his persistent calls for a more balanced trade relationship with China. His push is “not for protectionism, just for protection where needed and reciprocity.” Europe, he said, “had its door wide open when others had it half or three-quarters closed.”

Hanging in the balance as he raises these questions is the potential Airbus deal, worth at least over US$10 billion at list prices, according to Reuters.

China’s official Xinhua news agency reminded Macron in an editorial on Sunday that pragmatism will be the key to success on this trip.

“Fifty-four years [after France’s recognition of the PRC], [Charles de Gaulle’s] admirer, Macron, faces another chance to strengthen the weathered relationship,” the commentary said. “To accomplish this, he needs to practice his pragmatism, like his idol did over half a century ago.”

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