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Macron's China visit reaps cultural, economic rewards but stalls on Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron gets a warn welcome on arriving at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou on the third and last day of his visit to China. AP - Gonzalo Fuentes

French President Macron's three-day visit to China has so far seen a strengthening of economic and cultural ties, but no firm commitments on Chinese mediation in the Ukraine war – one of the trip's main objectives.

European planemaker Airbus said Thursday that it will double its production capacity in China, as it seeks to bolster its footprint in a crucial market and sidestep potential geopolitical risks.

Asia, and China in particular, are key targets for both Airbus and its American rival Boeing, which are looking to capitalise on surging demand for air travel by a rapidly expanding middle class.

"It makes a lot of sense for us, as the Chinese market keeps growing, to be serving local for the Chinese airlines, and probably some other customers in the region," said Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury, who is accompanying President Macron.

An employee works on an Airbus A220 aircraft at a factory in Shenyang in China's northeast AFP

Faury later signed a framework agreement to build a second final assembly line (FAL) at its factory in Tianjin, northeast China, for Airbus's hugely popular A320 family of medium-haul jets, at a ceremony attended by Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The new assembly line will begin operations in late 2025.

Historic ties

Coinciding with the French leader's visit to China, the Palace of Versailles signed a deal with the Forbidden City in Beijing for a 2024 exhibition about historic ties between France and China.

The exhibition, due to run 1 April to 30 June next year, will focus on how ties were forged in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially under king Louis XIV and emperor Kangxi with the arrival of French Jesuit priests at the Chinese court in 1685.

Visitors wearing face masks pose for pictures at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. REUTERS - Tingshu Wang

It was originally planned for 2020 but was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Coming 60 years after France re-established diplomatic ties with China, the show "is a sign of confidence for the future and the dialogue between our two cultures," Catherine Pegard, the head of Versailles, told French press agency AFP.

She said it would bring together objects from both collections to show how exchanges between the two countries fostered French interest in Chinese philosophy, science and art.

And Ukraine?

On Friday, the last day of Macron's three day visit, the president will travel to the southern city of Guangzhou to meet local students.

He is accompanied by a cultural delegation including electronic music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre, who was the first western musician to stage a pop concert in the People's Republic of China in 1981.

It is unclear if the visit of Macron and Von der Leyen will result in China's president Xi Jinping actively engaging in attempts to bring peace between Russia and Ukraine, one of the major objectives of the trip.

China has published a 12-point peace proposal, but this was criticised by the US and received a lukewarm reception from Ukraine.

Moscow has poured cold water on prospects of Beijing's mediation in the Ukraine crisis, insisting on Thursday it had "no choice" but to press on with its offensive.

"Undoubtedly, China has a very effective and commanding potential for mediation," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

"But the situation with Ukraine is complex, so far there are no prospects for a political settlement."

According to a French diplomat, Xi expressed a willingness to speak with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, but only when the time is right.

As a follow-up on the Macron-von der Leyen visit, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, is due to visit China next week from 13 to 15 April.

(with AFP)

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