France Signs Multibillion-Dollar Deals With China, Pushes Back on ‘One Belt, One Road’ Project

March 25, 2019 Updated: March 25, 2019

PARIS—France and China have signed agreements worth billions of dollars, including a huge Airbus plane order, during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, even as Paris pushed back against Beijing’s One Belt, One Road infrastructure initiative.

President Emmanuel Macron wants to forge a united European front to confront unfair Chinese trade and investment practices.

“Europe must be united and have a coherent message. That’s what we are doing on strategic investments,” Macron said March 25 in a joint address with Xi. Neither leader took questions.

Macron and Xi will hold further talks on March 26 with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the European Union’s executive arm.

Xi arrived in France after visiting Italy, the first Western power to endorse China’s ambitious One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative as Rome tries to revive its struggling economy.

The OBOR plan, championed by Xi, aims to link China by sea and land with Southeast and Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, through an infrastructure network on the lines of the old Silk Road.

France says Silk Road cooperation must work in both directions.

Macron said European firms needed better access to China, more trust in their exchanges and a tangible improvement in the business environment and fair competition. He said OBOR had to meet international norms.

The two sides signed 15 business deals totaling about 40 billion euros ($45 billion), including an order for 300 Airbus planes estimated at 30 billion euros alone.

The contracts ranged from the renewable energy sector to shipping and banking. Macron also said China has agreed to lift an embargo on French poultry.

Challenge and Partner

In a column in the French daily Le Figaro published March 24, Xi made clear he wanted Paris to cooperate in the project, calling for more trade and investment in sectors ranging from nuclear energy to aeronautics and farming.

“It’s up to us to work with France to develop a global and strategic partnership that is more robust, stable and dynamic,” Xi said alongside Macron. “We want our development to benefit others and that’s the case” with OBOR.

French officials describe China as both a challenge and partner, saying France must remain especially vigilant over any Chinese attempts to appropriate foreign technology for its own purposes.

The EU is already weighing a more defensive strategy on China, spurred by Beijing’s slowness in opening up its economy, Chinese takeovers in critical sectors, and a feeling in European capitals that Beijing hasn’t stood up for free trade.

On March 12, the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, called Beijing a “systematic rival” in a report on EU–China relations.

As part of efforts to further that approach, Macron will play host to Merkel and Juncker on March 26 to meet with Xi to move away from a purely bilateral approach to ties.

By Marine Pennetier and John Irish

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