BEIJING (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday he hopes to forge a partnership with China on climate, security and other issues during a visit to expand European ties with Beijing.
The trip comes as Britain's impending departure from the EU and the more inward-looking policies of U.S. President Donald Trump have raised the prospect of a possible realignment of global influence. China and France have promoted themselves as leaders on global warming after Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement.
"I hope to strengthen our mutual trust during this visit and to use the five years of my term in office to promote Franco-Chinese relations and European-Chinese relations," said Macron, standing with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, ahead of a meeting at a government guesthouse. Macron said he wanted to "strengthen collective security" and promote joint efforts to fight climate change.
Xi welcomed Macron in unusually effusive language. He noted France was the first Western country to form diplomatic ties with the Communist Beijing government and recalled that then-President Charles de Gaulle and Chinese leader Mao Zedong met in 1964.
"China and France are both great countries with splendid histories and the exchange and influence between us has deep historical significance for the world," Xi said.
During their meeting, Macron and Xi discussed climate change, Chinese-French relations and Xi's "Belt and Road Initiative" to build railways and other infrastructure across Asia and Europe, state television reported. The French leader said ahead of the meeting he wanted to talk about North Korea and fighting terrorist financing, but there was no immediate word on whether those were discussed.
Despite their public warmth, Macron's visit is overshadowed by mounting trade tensions.
Britain's departure from the EU will deprive Beijing of a prominent ally in opposing demands for tougher European anti-dumping measures against low-cost Chinese products.
Other EU members including France and Germany are pressing Beijing to give their companies reciprocity, or the same access to its state-dominated economy that Chinese companies enjoy abroad.
Macron, traveling with a French business delegation, wants to secure deals his government hopes will produce greater access to China's growing market.
The two governments are expected to announce a Franco-Chinese investment fund of more than 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion).
China is France's biggest Asian trading partner but the French side reported a 30 billion euro ($36 billion) trade deficit last year.
Earlier Monday, Macron began his visit in the western city of Xi'an, where he said he would propose to Xi a joint "year of ecological transition" to mobilize their governments and companies.
"I will ask President Xi to take a new step in our French-Chinese relationship, to engage in a climate battle," Macron said in a speech.
Macron said France could help, especially in Africa, with "Belt and Road," Xi's signature foreign initiative.
"France has the experience of unilateral imperialism in Africa, which sometimes led to the worst," he said. "And today, with the new Silk Road being created, I think that the partnership between France and China can avoid repeating these mistakes."
The French Development Agency and the state-run China Development Bank are to sign a cooperation agreement for co-financing of projects to fight climate change in Africa.
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.
That comes after a British-Chinese economic dialogue in December at which 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.