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Macron endorses China's Silk Road but warns against 'hegemony'
By Laurence BENHAMOU
Beijing (AFP) Jan 8, 2018

Macron visits Forbidden City before China deals, Xi talks
Beijing (AFP) Jan 9, 2018 - French President Emmanuel Macron toured Beijing's sprawling Forbidden City on Tuesday before a day of business deals and talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping as the two rising global leaders seek closer ties.

Macron, who has positioned himself as the leading voice of the European Union, came to Beijing to discuss an ambitious agenda with Xi, the most powerful Chinese leader in decades.

The two presidents are expected to oversee the signing of some 50 agreements, including in the strategically key sectors of nuclear energy and aerospace.

Ahead of the ceremony, Chinese online retailer JD.com announced plans to sell French goods worth two billion euros ($2.4 billion) to Chinese consumers over the next two years -- including high-end wine and cognac -- and spend 100 million euros on French industrial products.

In a keynote speech on Monday, Macron urged the EU to participate in Xi's cherished $1 trillion Silk Road trade infrastructure project despite misgivings, though he warned that the initiative should not create a "new hegemony".

Macron and Xi held a private meeting Monday night and were due to hold more talks on Tuesday.

The French leader told reporters he discussed the Silk Road initiative with Xi "at length".

"We will see how things are done," Macron said as he attended a forum on Artificial Intelligence in Beijing on Tuesday.

- Communist Party congress -

Macron and his wife Brigitte were accompanied by students from the French international school and a French historian as they walked along the red-walled palaces of former Chinese emperors at the Forbidden City.

On a sunny but bitterly cold day, Macron asked historian Patrice Fava to translate a banner which read "With fairness, govern from the centre".

"It's important. It's symbolic," said Brigitte Macron, whose husband campaigned as a centrist candidate in the French presidential election.

It is the first state visit by a European leader since China's Communist Party congress in October, which reinforced Xi's grip on power as he was formally handed a second term and his named was enshrined in the party's constitution.

Beijing has praised Macron's decision to make China his first state visit to an Asian nation.

At the Forbidden City's pavilion of Supreme Harmony, Macron drew a parallel with the 19th Communist Party congress.

"This also allows us to better understand one of the themes of the 19th Congress raised by President Xi Jinping," Macron said. "This also comes from a profoundly anchored history in this country."

French President Emmanuel Macron urged Europe Monday to take part in China's massive Silk Road infrastructure project but warned against "hegemony", saying both sides should share the benefits.

Macron, on the first day of a state visit, also called on Europe and China to team up on curbing climate change in the face of the US decision to withdraw from the Paris accord.

"Our destinies are linked," he said in a keynote speech on the future of Sino-French relations during a visit to the northern city of Xian, the starting point of the ancient Silk Road.

"The future needs France, Europe and China," Macron said, adding he would travel to China "at least once a year".

Macron started his three-day visit in Xian as a gesture to Chinese President Xi Jinping's huge New Silk Road project, an initiative to connect Asia and Europe by road, rail and sea.

The $1 trillion infrastructure programme is billed as a modern revival of the ancient Silk Road that once carried fabrics, spices and a wealth of other goods in both directions.

Known in China as "One Belt, One Road", the plan will see gleaming new road and rail networks built through Central Asia and beyond, and new maritime routes stretching through the Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

The project has spurred both interest and anxiety in many countries, with some in Europe seeing it as an example of Chinese expansionism.

Macron said Europe should join the new silk road initiative but added a warning.

"They cannot be the roads of a new hegemony that will put the countries that they traverse in a vassal state," he said.

"Multilateralism means balanced cooperation."

The ancient Silk Roads were never purely Chinese, he said. "These roads are to be shared and they cannot be one-way."

The United States and Europeans often accuse China of restricting access to its vast market even though they have opened up to Chinese imports.

France has a 30-billion-euro ($36 billion) trade deficit with China.

- Climate battle -

Macron's first official visit to Asia marks a new stage in his diplomacy, which has so far been concentrated on Europe and Africa.

He plans to seek a "strategic partnership" with Beijing on issues including terrorism.

In a French version of panda diplomacy, Macron has brought Xi a gift: a retired Republican Guard horse that is currently in quarantine in China.

On climate change, Macron said he would talk to Xi about "relaunching the climate battle" by preparing an increase in their engagements to combat global warming at the COP 24 talks in Poland later this year.

He praised China, the world's top polluter, for committing to the Paris accord after President Donald Trump gave notification of America's withdrawal.

"China kept its word," he said. "You demonstrate your immense sense of responsibility."

Cooperation will "show the world that the French and Chinese are capable of making our planet great and beautiful again", he said in Chinese.

After Xian, Macron travelled to Beijing along with his delegation which includes some 60 business executives and representatives of institutions.

Macron and his wife Brigitte met Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan on Monday night at the Diaoyutai State Guest House, where the Chinese leader praised France's foresight in being the first major Western country to establish diplomatic relations with Communist China, in 1964.

"That you have chosen China as your first destination on your first visit to Asia shows the high importance you attach to the relationship's development," he said.

On Tuesday Macron will visit the Forbidden City, meet top Chinese officials and oversee the signing of business deals.

Human Rights Watch has urged him to call publicly for human rights improvements in China during his meeting with Xi, but the French president's office said the matter would be addressed privately.

Along with Brigitte, Macron visited the famous terracotta warriors in Xian, as well as a centuries-old Big Wild Goose Pagoda -- a Buddhist site -- and the city's mosque.

The 8,000-man clay army, crafted around 250 BC for the tomb of China's first emperor Qin Shihuang, is a symbol of ancient artistic and military sophistication in a country that proclaims itself a 5,000-year-old civilisation.

Spain king pays homage to father Juan Carlos in comeback
Madrid (AFP) Jan 6, 2018
Spanish King Felipe VI on Saturday paid homage to his father Juan Carlos as the former monarch, fresh from celebrating his 80th birthday, made a public comeback after complaining bitterly of being left on the sidelines. Appearing in full military garb alongside his son, Queen Letizia and his wife Sofia at the royal palace in Madrid, Juan Carlos met Spain's army, navy and airforce chiefs at a ... read more

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