France ‘committed’ to dialogue with China: French foreign minister

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France is committed to dialogue with China, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said on Friday, affirming ties after a European Union anti-subsidy probe backed by Paris into Chinese-made electric vehicles rankled Beijing.

Colonna’s visit to the Chinese capital, centred around encouraging exchanges between citizens of both countries such as students and tourists, has threatened to be overshadowed by trade issues in the wake of the EV investigation, which Beijing has blasted as “protectionist”.

“We are really committed to dialogue with China,” Colonna told China’s Premier Li Qiang, adding that she was “honoured” and “happy” to see him after their Paris meeting in June.

“The two countries are permanent members of the (UN)Security Council, and they have global responsibility…to find the answers to great challenges, in particular the challenges of climate, biodiversity and anything that can ease the tension in the world,” she said at the meeting.

Colonna’s trip precedes a visit by the European Commission and Council presidents, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, to Beijing in early December for the first in-person summit with President Xi Jinping in four years, after China-EU relations nosedived during the pandemic.

European officials have repeatedly vowed to reduce economic dependencies on China in critical sectors – otherwise known as “de-risking” – in the face of what the G7 calls China’s “economic coercion”.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who met with Xi in China earlier this year, has argued the EU should stop being naive and demand a level playing field with countries like China, and had been pushing the European Commission behind the scenes to launch the probe.

China is France’s third-largest trade partner, but French and other European firms are deeply concerned about China’s vast trade imbalance with the EU, its opaque legislation on cross-border data transfers and cheap Chinese EVs flooding the European market, threatening domestic carmakers.

France is also concerned about Chinese attempts to force French cosmetics companies to share manufacturing secrets with Chinese parties.

France is China’s top source of cosmetics and wine imports, according to China’s customs agency, with French luxury titans such as LMVH particularly dependent on Chinese consumers. The lack of a strong rebound in luxury demand following China’s post-pandemic re-opening has spooked investors.

Xi insisted that China welcomes investment from French firms in a telephone call on Monday with Macron, who urged fair treatment for foreign companies in China.

The Chinese premier, in his meeting with Colonna, took an upbeat stance on broader bilateral ties.

“Under the strategic leadership of President Xi Jinping and President Macron, the relationship between China and France has been developing better and better in all aspects since this year,” Li said.

“Next year will be the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France, and both of us are sustaining our efforts in the hope that the 60th year would see a big development and a big breakthrough.