Friday

27th May 2022

France takes Chinese billions despite EU concerns

  • The French and Chinese leaders ate dinner with their wives, prior to announcing business deals in Paris (Photo: elysee.fr)

France has signed €40bn of business deals with China, despite concerns on strategic investment and human rights abuse.

The bulk of the new deals, worth €30bn, were in the form of 300 airplanes to be sold by European firm Airbus to China Aviation Supplies Holding Company, while the rest covered energy, transport, and food.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

French president Emmanuel Macron and Chinese president Xi Jinping announced the moves at a bilateral meeting in France on Monday (25 March).

They will meet again in an enlarged format with German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker also in France on Tuesday.

Xi is in Paris after having earlier gone to Rome to sign a memo on Italy's participation in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) - a vast scheme for Chinese investment in European infrastructure projects, among others.

He said alongside Macron in the Elysee palace in Paris that "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 added.

"We want our development to benefit others and that's the case with the BRI," he said.

The wave of Chinese investment, which had so far focused on poorer central European states, has raised alarm in Europe that China's acquisition of sensitive assets, such as commercial ports, or involvement in high-end IT projects, such as 5G telecoms networks, posed strategic, intellectual property, and security threats to the EU.

"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 dependent," German foreign minister Heiko Maas warned on Sunday.

Gunther Oettinger, Germany's EU commissioner, also voiced concern the same day that, soon, "in Italy and other European countries, infrastructure of strategic importance like power networks, rapid rail lines or harbours [will] no longer be in European, but in Chinese hands".

Macron himself, speaking on Monday, said he had invited Merkel and Juncker precisely to address those fears by creating a common EU front.

"Europe must be united and have a coherent message. That's what we are doing on strategic investments," he said.

"Beyond the bilateral relationship, we have placed at the centre of our discussions the question of the partnership between China and Europe," he added.

Xi's visit to Paris was marked by protests against China's mass imprisonments of its Muslim Uighur minority and of its oppression of Tibet.

Grace Meng, the wife of Meng Hongwei, a reformist Chinese official who was president of Interpol, the international police agency based in France, until he vanished while on a trip to China last year amid bribery allegations, also spoke out.

"I hope the president [Macron] can help Mr Meng and his family, to protect our fundamental human rights," she told French media.

"They [Chinese authorities] have no bottom line. Even if I am in France, they want to kidnap me and my children," she warned.

The French and Chinese leaders, who also held a private dinner with their wives on Sunday, nodded to the protests.

Values?

"China will always back cooperation and development with Europe, which falls in line with our multilateral values," Xi said at the Elysee on Monday.

"The European Union is based on respect for individual freedoms and fundamental rights," Macron said.

"That's why France brings up this issue in its dialogue with China - to express concerns that are ours and those of Europe on the question of respecting fundamental rights in China," he added.

They did not take questions from press on the potentially prickly issues, however.

The aviation firm at the centre of the new deal, Airbus, was even more deaf to mention of values.

"We are honoured to support the growth of China's civil aviation with our leading aircraft families - single-aisle and wide-bodies," Airbus' commercial aircraft president and its new CEO-in-waiting, Guillaume Faury, said.

Barriers to fall

Top EU officials and China will meet at a subsequent summit in Brussels on 9 April.

A draft summit communique, seen by the Reuters news agency, called for the removal of market access barriers on both sides to stimulate further investment despite the strategic concerns.

China and the EU will "agree by summer 2019 on a set of priority market access barriers and requirements facing their operators," the draft statement said.

The two sides would set "deadlines for their swift removal by the next EU-China summit in 2020 at the latest", it added.

EU and China perform tricky diplomatic dance

EU and China relations kicked off 15 years ago after signing a strategic partnership. Trade has increased dramatically but human rights and other issues remain tricky as the two seek to defend international law and international trade.

Opinion

Interpol, China and the EU

China joins a long list of countries - including Russia - accused of abusing Interpol's 'Red Notice' system to harras activists and dissidents.

France aims for EU minimum-tax deal in June

EU Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said on Tuesday that Poland's recovery plan could be approved within a week. This could also help unblock Warsaw's reluctance to agree to the tax deal.

Opinion

When Reagan met Gorbachev — a history lesson for Putin

Neither Reagan nor Gorbachev achieved their goal at the famous Reykjavik summit of 1986. Despite that fact there are lessons that current leaders — particularly Vladimir Putin — could adopt from these two iconic leaders.

Opinion

Orbán's overtures to Moscow are distasteful and detrimental

Some Western European politicians are reviving the chimera of a negotiated settlement. None of this makes the current, half-hearted approach towards sanctioning Russia look better — nor does it shed any favourable light on the cravenness of Hungary's current government.

News in Brief

  1. Dutch journalists sue EU over banned Russia TV channels
  2. EU holding €23bn of Russian bank reserves
  3. Russia speeds up passport process in occupied Ukraine
  4. Palestinian civil society denounce Metsola's Israel visit
  5. Johnson refuses to resign after Downing Street parties report
  6. EU border police has over 2,000 agents deployed
  7. Dutch tax authorities to admit to institutional racism
  8. Rutte calls for EU pension and labour reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. EU summit will be 'unwavering' on arms for Ukraine
  2. Orbán's new state of emergency under fire
  3. EU parliament prevaricates on barring Russian lobbyists
  4. Ukraine lawyer enlists EU watchdog against Russian oil
  5. Right of Reply: Hungarian government
  6. When Reagan met Gorbachev — a history lesson for Putin
  7. Orbán oil veto to deface EU summit on Ukraine
  8. France aims for EU minimum-tax deal in June

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us