French President Emmanuel Macron wrapped up a three-day state visit to China this week, strengthening the European Union’s economic ties to Asia. Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to open their economies to trade and investment and strengthen the global economic governance system.

It was Macron’s first state visit to China since becoming president, and he pledged to return each year to foster face-to-face diplomacy. As a symbol of friendship, Macron gifted Chinese President Xi Jinping with a prized horse named Vésuve de Brekka, who had served the French Republican Guard. It was in the fashion of China’s “panda diplomacy” of gifting its pandas to countries around the world, including France.

Trade and Investment

China is France’s seventh largest export market. China accounts for 3.6 percent of French exports; while France accounts for 1.2 percent of Chinese exports.

Macron led a delegation of 50 business representatives. They worked on major deals for nuclear energy, aerospace and online retail.

The French and Chinese delegates signed 20 bilateral agreements and pledged stronger ties health care for aging populations — a key concern for China — and on promoting tourism ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in China and the 2024 Summer Olympics in France.

China agreed to open its large consumer market to French beef, which China had banned in 2001 following a “mad cow” disease epidemic in Europe.

Beyond trade, Xi and Macron discussed foreign investment, climate change and international development.

Strategic Industry: Big Data

One sensitive area of economic relations is the area of “strategic” industries such as high technology.

The European Union is defining its objectives on big data in an effort to guard against the U.S. and Chinese models, which it sees as being invasive. The EU’s antitrust office is investigating how companies use large amounts of data, and EU leaders are beginning to invest in their own big-data resources. That has wide implications for consumer privacy, commercial trade secrets and innovation.

Macron indicated he supports that effort. “France has defended the definition of strategic sectors in which we want to protect investments,” he said.

Xi, however, called for “integrating the development strategies of China and France,” and cooperating in the fields of the digital economy, artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing industry, according to China Daily.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative

The visit comes as China is working on a massive international infrastructure project spanning 65 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe to promote trade.

The Belt and Road Initiative involves two land and sea trade routes and is estimated to cost $1.7 trillion a year through 2030. China plans on using both public funds and private loans to finance it but has run into obstacles in cementing deals abroad.

Macron said he is convinced the initiative would have a “considerable impact” over the region. He encouraged President Xi to  work with the Europeans on developing the project with a sense of balance.

“It’s important that this new silk road, in terms of its philosophy and spirit, that it should revitalize the balanced exchanges of cooperation between us,” Macron said.

The initiative faces significant challenges, including fears of its domination. The South China Morning Post reports that leaders in several countries, including Pakistan, Tanzania and Hungary, have pushed back against China’s financing terms and its demands for ownership stakes in projects.

Macron seems to have acknowledged those concerns, saying, “In close collaboration with Xi Jinping, we will be working to ensure that wherever we implement this initiative, we fight against corruption and imbalanced forms of development.”

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About Author

Patti Mohr is an independent journalist living in North Carolina. She has a Master's Degree in International Commerce and Policy from George Mason University and a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and a certificate in journalism from the University of Cincinnati. After spending 12 years working in Washington, D.C., Patti moved to North Carolina where she consulted clients with their resumes and began working in property management. She continued to work on research and writing on an independent basis and conceptualized the structure for a media organization that would support independent journalism. Patti's lifelong dream is to pursue a career in writing about international relations. She has a strong belief in the fundamentals of journalism, namely the pursuit of truth, the maintenance of independence from sources, and in the verification of information. She is a reliable researcher with strong analytical and problem-solving skills.