Emmanuel Macron is expected in China on Wednesday, convinced that Beijing remains “indispensable” in the face of the many challenges of the world, starting with the war in Ukraine that the Chinese position can, according to Paris, “rock”.

Because of its proximity to Russia, “China is the only country in the world able to have an immediate and radical impact on the conflict, in one direction or the other”, estimated the Elysée before this visit. three-day state visit of the French president.

A few hours before flying to Beijing, Emmanuel Macron had a telephone interview with his American counterpart Joe Biden. The two leaders expressed the wish that China help to “accelerate with us the end of the war in Ukraine”, according to French officials.

On the Western side, Emmanuel Macron is, according to his entourage, one of the rare heads of state who “can discuss six, seven hours” with Chinese President Xi Jinping to plead the cause of peace.

While a scent of the Cold War envelops the competition between China and the United States, the French assume to carry an “other way”, less hostile than the Americans, in the relationship with the Asian giant.

On the strength of this premise, France still hoped recently to convince the Chinese number one to play “a mediating role” to push his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin towards a negotiated outcome. Especially since Beijing has never condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine launched in February 2022.

But the anti-Western front displayed by Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin in Moscow two weeks ago seems to have put these ambitions into perspective.

President Macron will therefore seek “a space” for dialogue with Beijing for “initiatives” in order to “support the civilian population” in Ukraine, but also “identify a way” out of the crisis in the medium term, said an adviser with many precautions, in the absence of details.

The urgency even seems to be to convince China not to fall completely into Russia’s camp by supplying it with weapons. Emmanuel Macron will tell Chinese leaders “that it is essential to refrain” from supporting the Russian war effort, warned his Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna.

“If China takes this disastrous decision, there is a major strategic effect on the conflict”, added the French presidency. “We want to avoid the worst”.

For Antoine Bondaz, of the Foundation for Strategic Research, it is not by coming “nicely to say that we must not (…) that we will prevent China from supporting Russia militarily”. “It is through warnings” accompanied, in private discussions, by a threat of “sanctions”, he told AFP.

A test of France’s ability to hold “its rank”, according to this researcher, will be played out around the nuclear issue: Emmanuel Macron must raise in Beijing, if possible publicly, the fears around the Russian intention to deploy weapons nuclear weapons in Belarus.

The French president wants more broadly to set a “reengagement” to music after a long period without personal contact due to Covid-19, broken by a meeting with Xi Jinping in November in Indonesia.

He must fly away Tuesday evening to arrive Wednesday afternoon in the Chinese capital, where he will meet a French community tested by the health restrictions lifted at the end of 2022.

Thursday, before a State dinner, he will meet Chinese leaders, with a sequence in common with the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, to convey a united message.

Finally, he will go to Canton on Friday, where he will exchange with Chinese students.

Emmanuel Macron will be accompanied by around sixty bosses of French companies, including those of Airbus, EDF or Veolia, with an emphasis on energy transition, one of the planetary challenges on which Paris considers it essential to move forward with Beijing.

Contract signatures are expected.

The president intends to continue to push for “better access to the Chinese market” and “fair conditions of competition”, as during his visits in 2018 and 2019, explained his entourage.

Emmanuel Macron and Ursula von der Leyen “should not shove the growing authoritarianism of the Chinese government under the rug,” said Human Rights Watch, fearing that the issue of human rights will be overshadowed.

The Elysée assures that it will be mentioned, in particular the case of “relatives of French nationals who are in Xinjiang”, a region where observers denounce a strong repression, so that they can “leave China”.

04/04/2023 21:55:07 –         Paris (AFP) –         © 2023 AFP