French President Emmanuel Macron with China's President Xi Jinping at the Villa Kerylos before a dinner on Sunday in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, near Nice on the French Riviera. Photo: AFP

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Emmanuel Macron met for dinner in the south of France Sunday ahead of official talks with the French leader, who is seeking to forge a united European front against Beijing’s advances.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and an honor guard greeted Xi when he arrived at the airport of the French Riviera city of Nice accompanied by his wife Peng Liyuanr.

Prior to meeting with Macron, Xi was received by Prince Albert II in the nearby principality of Monaco. A government spokesman said bilateral talks would “address economic and environmental issues.”

Xi had traveled from Italy after it became the first G7 member to sign up to his landmark new Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive trade network joining Asia to Europe.

Washington and some EU states fear the Silk Road-styled project will give China too much sway. But Xi insists it would be a two-way street of investment and trade.

Germany criticized Rome over its participation in the BRI.

“In a world with giants like China, Russia or our partners in the United States, we can only survive if we are united as the EU. And if some countries believe that they can do clever business with the Chinese, then they will be surprised when they wake up and find themselves dependant,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

Gunther Oettinger, the EU’s German budget commissioner, told the Funke newspaper group that Europe should ensure it retains its autonomy and sovereignty in its dealings with Beijing.

He expressed concern that already “infrastructure of strategic importance … are no longer in European but in Chinese hands.

French Finance Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had remarked Friday that “Silk Road cooperation had to go “in both directions.”

Amid tight security, Xi and his wife joined Macron and his wife for a private dinner at nearby Beaulieu-sur-Mer overlooking the Mediterranean during which they were expected to discuss what a Chinese official described as “a deep exchange of views on Sino-French, Sino-European relations and international and issues of mutual interest.”

Xi’s official visit to Paris on Monday will mark 55 years since Charles de Gaulle established diplomatic relations with Beijing.

A series of cooperation deals on nuclear power, aerospace and clean energy initiatives, some involving lucrative contracts, are expected to be signed.

On Tuesday, Macron and Xi will be joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker to explore “points of convergence” ahead of an EU-China summit in Brussels next month.

– with reporting by Agence France-Presse

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