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China’s Xi Jinping begins first Europe tour in five years in France

Chinese President Xi Jinping embarks on his first European tour in five years, set against the backdrop of Russia’s conflict in Ukraine and economic tensions between Beijing and Brussels. Beginning in France, Xi is slated to engage in discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen before proceeding to Serbia and Hungary, nations known for their close ties with Russia despite its aggression in Ukraine.

Matt Geracim, from the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub, outlines three objectives for Xi’s visit: repairing strained relations in Europe due to China’s support for Russia’s actions, countering the EU’s economic security agenda, and spotlighting Beijing’s partnerships with steadfast allies like Serbia and Hungary.

This tour coincides with the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between China and France, a relationship marked by historical significance. However, the trip unfolds amidst global security challenges, with ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East casting shadows over international relations.

France, notably vocal on European security concerns, intends to prioritize discussions on the Ukraine crisis during Xi’s visit. Macron, advocating a robust European stance against Russian aggression, emphasizes the existential threat posed by the conflict to Europe’s security.

In a demonstration of European unity, von der Leyen will also participate in the discussions, highlighting shared concerns regarding Chinese business practices. Europe’s scrutiny extends to investigations into China’s subsidies for electric vehicle manufacturers, aiming to safeguard European industries from unfair competition.

Echoing France’s sentiments, Xi aims to enhance strategic ties with the EU and France, underscoring mutual benefits and stability. The summit will culminate in a state banquet hosted by Macron, symbolizing diplomatic goodwill.

The visit to Serbia holds historical significance, coinciding with the anniversary of the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy. China’s substantial investments in Serbia underscore the burgeoning bilateral relations, positioning Serbia as a key partner in the Western Balkans.

In Budapest, Xi will engage with Hungarian President Viktor Orban, known for his pro-Russia stance within the EU. Hungary’s alignment with China and participation in the Belt and Road Initiative raise concerns among EU members regarding Chinese influence.

The discussions are expected to address various aspects of cooperation, including infrastructure projects like the high-speed rail linking Budapest and Belgrade. However, reports of Chinese police stations in Hungary have stirred apprehensions among European exiles and dissidents.

Overall, Xi’s European tour navigates complex geopolitical dynamics, balancing diplomatic engagements, economic interests, and regional alliances amidst global uncertainties.

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