BEIJING (AFP) – French President Emmanuel Macron pleaded yesterday for European unity in the face of China’s growing economic power as he wrapped up a visit to Beijing with several business deals.
Mr Macron, who has become the leading voice of the European Union, endorsed President Xi Jinping’s massive $1 trillion programme to revive ancient Silk Road trading routes during his three-day trip.
But the French leader also warned Europeans to stay on guard to protect strategic sectors as China makes inroads through the project, known in Beijing as One Belt One Road, which seeks to build rail, maritime and road links from Asia to Europe and Africa.
“We must come up with a common position at the European level” regarding the Silk Road, Mr Macron told a press conference.
“We can’t disregard this initiative. It would mean dealing with its consequences and would be a profound strategic mistake,” he said, while noting that Europeans are divided about the Silk Road revival.
“Some countries are much more open to Chinese interests, sometimes at the cost of a European interest. We can’t blame them for that because we have forced very tough privatisations on them,” Mr Macron said.
Greece, for example, has sold the port of Piraeus to China and is a major recipient of Chinese largesse. In June, Athens blocked an EU declaration condemning Chinese human rights abuses.
But “China cannot respect a continent where some member states open every door, where it is easy to buy essential infrastructure. So when France or Europe defends its strategic sectors, it’s good for us and for dialogue,” Mr Macron said.
The French leader has staked a claim as the EU’s most prominent leader as Britain prepares to exit the bloc next year and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is embroiled in post-election coalition talks.