Emmanuel Macron starts China visit in Silk Road gateway city of Xian

French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte began their three-day official visit to China in the northern city of Xian, which was once the starting point of the ancient Silk Road trading route that stretched across Asia.

The French leader and his delegation visited the city’s famous terracotta warriors, the 8,000-man clay army, crafted around 250 BC for the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shihuang. Macron is then set to deliver a speech on the future Franco-Chinese relations.

Read more: China’s Silk Road: a lucrative opportunity for Germany?

Macron’s decision to kick start his visit in Xian served as gesture to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious New Silk Road project — or, as it’s known in China, the “One Belt One Road.” 

Xi’s contemporary interpretation of the ancient trading route aims to connect Asia and Europe via new road and rail networks, as well as new maritime routes stretching through the Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

Future of Franco-Chinese relations

The French president has yet to outline his view on the New Silk Road project, which has sparked both intrigue and concern in France.

In what is his first official mission to Asia since becoming president last May, Macron is reportedly seeking to develop a strategic partnership with Xi, particularly when it comes to the North Korean nuclear crisis and climate change. The French president is believed to want to make his Chinese counterpart a key ally in implementing the Paris climate accord after the US pulled out of the deal late last year.

Read more: ‘New Silk Road’ and China’s hegemonic ambitions

“Multilateralism is currently undergoing a crisis,” Macron said in an interview published on Monday on the official government website china.org.cn. “We have to give it a new dynamic by constructing responses to crises through dialogue, by fighting climate change, by defining the best rules for commercial exchange.” 

The French president added: “I’m convinced that France and China, which are two powers of multilateralism deeply attached to their independence, can work together in changing the situation.”

After Xian, Macron is scheduled to travel to Beijing with his delegation, which is made up of some 60 business executives and representatives from leading French companies, including aircraft manufacturer Airbus and supermarket chain Auchan.

Read more: Airbus wins massive Chinese order for new planes

Both parties are expected to sign numerous economic agreements on the third day, particularly in the fields of aviation and nuclear energy.

Like Trump before him, Macron is expected to push for greater access for French businesses in the country to reduce France’s $36-billion trade deficit with China.

dm/se (AFP, dpa)