According to sources, French President Emmanuel Macron wants to deepen EU ties with China while creating a more level playing field for trade. Credit:

French President Emmanuel Macron will attend the opening ceremony of the second China International Import Expo and make a state visit to China from Nov 4 to 6, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying announced on Wednesday.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic will also attend the opening ceremony, China Daily reported.

Sixty-three foreign countries are set to attend the expo in Shanghai, as well as more than 3,000 companies from around 150 countries and regions, including 192 companies from the United States — 18% more US companies than last year.

That shows that foreign companies, including those from the US, are optimistic about China’s economic prospects and market potential, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Wednesday.

“They want to continue to invest in and deepen cooperation with China,” he said at a daily news briefing.

According to The Guardian and France24, Macron wants to deepen EU ties with China while creating a more level playing field for trade.

There are concerns in Europe about Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, a Chinese plan involving development of infrastructure and investments in 152 countries that Beijing says will improve regional connections. Others see it as a push by China to dominate global affairs.

French officials initially warmed to the idea, provided it would work for domestic firms too and help plug France’s massive trade deficit with China. But Paris is adamant Silk Road cooperation must work in both directions.

Earlier this year, Beijing and Paris signed deals worth about US$40 billion, as China announced it would buy 290 A320 aircraft and 10 A350 aircraft from the European consortium Airbus.

In a column in French daily Le Figaro, Xi Jinping made clear he wanted Paris to take part in the project, calling for more trade and investment in sectors ranging from nuclear energy to aerospace and agriculture.

“French investors are welcome to share development opportunities in China. I also hope that Chinese companies can do better in France and make a greater contribution to its economic and social development,” he wrote, likening ties between the two counties to “a myriad of small streams converging into a mighty river.”

The trouble for Xi is that French and other European firms don’t feel that welcome in China, and EU leaders are concerned the “mighty river” has been flowing in one direction only.

Long the EU’s main beneficiary of trade with China (and the only one to enjoy a trade surplus with Beijing), Germany is now largely aligned with France on the need for a joint European approach on China. But the EU’s 28 members remain split on the Silk Road, with 13 central and eastern states having been enlisted so far.

Macron will likely be hoping to push a more united approach when he visits China next week.

Geng insisted China’s reform will only get faster, and the country will only become more open, citing a recent report of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The report says in this year’s first half, global foreign direct investment flows dropped by 20% from the second half of last year.

Investment inflows to the US dropped by more than 25%, while those to China increased by about 5%, the report indicates.

The decline in FDI worldwide reflects the worsening of the global investment environment, caused primarily by protectionism and unilateralism, Geng said.

Less investment in the US and more investment in China “shows clearly who is becoming more and more open, and who more and more conservative,” he added.

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