BEIJING (AP) — The presidents of China and France promised closer cooperation Tuesday on climate, counter-terrorism and other issues as their governments try to gain influence in a shifting global political landscape.
President Emmanuel Macron’s visit was billed as an effort to expand European ties and cooperation with China as Britain prepares to leave the European Union and U.S. President Donald Trump promotes more inward-looking policies. Macron said earlier he hoped to forge a wide-ranging partnership on climate and other issues, though he said that would take time.
The visit produced no formal initiatives but Chinese President Xi Jinping said they would “make joint efforts to maintain multilateralism and improve global governance.”
France and China have promoted themselves as leaders in fighting global warming following Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreements. Both also are looking for a bigger voice in global economic and security management, though their potential for cooperation might be hampered by trade and other disputes.
“Together we will cope with global challenges such as climate change and terrorism,” Xi told reporters. In a meeting later with Chinese and French entrepreneurs, Xi said the two governments should defend the “current system of multilateral trade” — a reference to resisting Trump’s efforts to rewrite trade deals he says are unfair to the United States.
In a meeting earlier with Premier Li Keqiang, China’s top economic official, Macron said the two sides should “settle on an economic and geopolitical plan for the affairs of our world.” He expressed hope they could produce a “strategic roadmap for the next five years.”
Despite their amicable tone, the visit produced no breakthroughs on Europe’s mounting frustration over China’s market barriers and complaints its exports of low-cost steel are threatening European jobs.
The French leader hoped to secure business deals that might advance European demands for reciprocity, or gaining the same access to China’s state-dominated economy that its companies have abroad.
A delegation of French business leaders traveling with Macron signed cooperation agreements with Chinese partners, many of them government-owned, in energy, telecoms, aerospace and other fields. But there was no immediate indication any represented a Chinese opening of a field previously off-limits to foreign companies.
Earlier Tuesday, Macron struck a rare jarring note when he urged Chinese to open their markets wider and warned lack of action might prompt other countries to close their own. Such warnings are common among economists and political analysts, but it is unusual for a foreign leader in Beijing to address a sensitive issue so directly.
Speaking to Chinese and French entrepreneurs at a business park, Macron pointed to France’s 30 billion euro ($36 billion) trade deficit with China last year and warned it was politically unsustainable.
“If we don’t deal with this responsibly, the natural reaction, the one we’ve had for too long, will be to close up on both sides,” the French president said.
Xi also said Beijing supported France in playing “a bigger role in the integrity of Europe” — a reference to preserving the 27-nation EU trading bloc following the shock of Britain’s decision to leave.
Beijing had seen Britain as an ally in opposing demands by other EU governments for tougher anti-dumping action against Chinese imports. For its part, Britain promoted itself as a platform for Chinese companies in Europe.
The British withdrawal threw those plans into doubt, possibly forcing Beijing to recruit new allies while its companies reconsider whether to shift possible investment to France, Germany or other trade bloc members.
“China supports France to play a bigger role in the integrity of Europe,” said Xi. “We welcome France making more contribution to the development of relations between China and Europe.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May is to visit Beijing this month as part of her government’s effort to nurture a new global role following its departure from the EU in 2019. At a British-Chinese economic dialogue in December, the two sides pledged to promote London as a center for transactions in China’s yuan currency.
Also this week, a former British prime minister, David Cameron, is scheduled to meet Chinese leaders as head of a 750 million pound ($1 billion) fund to invest in railways, ports and other facilities between China and Britain.
This story has been corrected to fix Macron’s first name to Emmanuel.