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Chinese President Xi Jinping Meets With European Leaders To Talk Trade

Mar 26, 2019
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Chinese President Xi Jinping is visiting Europe this week to promote his massive infrastructure project known as the Belt and Road Initiative. Today he met with three European leaders in Paris. They agreed to work towards a trust-based partnership between China and the European Union. As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, the EU is trying to present a united front when dealing with China.

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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: President Emmanuel Macron gave Xi Jinping the red carpet treatment as the two presidents stood under the Arc de Triomphe for their national anthems. But behind the pomp was a sense of wariness. Despite the signing of some lucrative contracts, Macron doesn't want France to negotiate with China on its own. So he invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker to join him in asserting Europe's role as a commercial superpower on a par with the U.S. and China.

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PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Macron said dialogue between the European Union and China is necessary to preserve the multilateral balance in the world needed to solve major global issues like climate change. But there are cracks in the European facade. Italy recently surprised its EU partners by signing on to China's infrastructure project despite warnings from Brussels. Andre Loesekrug-Pietri is a Franco-German tech investor who spent 10 years investing in China.

ANDRE LOESEKRUG-PIETRI: The fact that Italy joined the Belt and Road Initiative is a major symbolic win for China because it's the first G7 country that is joining.

BEARDSLEY: The three Europeans, Macron, Merkel and Juncker, stood together on the steps of the Elysee Palace as Xi's car arrived this morning.

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CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Speaking German).

BEARDSLEY: After their meeting, Merkel said China's Belt and Road Initiative had to be a two-way street. She spoke through an interpreter.

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MERKEL: (Through interpreter) As Europeans, we want to play a role indeed in this one belt, one road initiative. But there needs to be reciprocity.

BEARDSLEY: Sylvie Kauffmann, foreign affairs columnist at newspaper Le Monde, says China has never wanted to deal with Europe as one.

SYLVIE KAUFFMANN: This is really President Xi's strategy. He's dealing with one state at a time to try to keep Europe divided. President Macron actually said over the last few days, the time of naivete is over with China. I think now there is a new awareness in Europe, and particularly in France and in Germany, that Europe cannot afford this kind of unreciprocal (ph) openness anymore.

BEARDSLEY: The U.S. is pressuring European allies not to use technology from the Chinese telecom company Huawei, saying it creates a security risk. But France and Germany have not ruled out signing a contract with the Chinese. Tech investor Loesekrug-Pietri says President Trump's confrontational approach to China may actually be working. He says recently, the Chinese have begun opening up their financial and investment sector to foreign investors more than ever before.

LOESEKRUG-PIETRI: The Europeans seem to be also waking up to the fact that it's only in a power relationship by showing unity that something can be achieved from the China side.

BEARDSLEY: He says today's meeting in Paris was a step in the right direction toward establishing a more equal trading relationship between the European Union and China.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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