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French President Emmanuel Macron visits Forbidden City before China deals, Xi Jinping talks

French President Emmanuel Macron toured Beijing’s sprawling Forbidden City on Tuesday before a day of business deals and talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping as the two rising global leaders seek closer ties.

Macron, who has positioned himself as the leading voice of the European Union, came to Beijing to discuss an ambitious agenda with Xi, the most powerful Chinese leader in decades.

French President Emmanuel Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Emmanuel Macron, via Twitter.

The two presidents are expected to oversee the signing of some 50 agreements, including in the strategically key sectors of nuclear energy and aerospace.

Ahead of the ceremony, Chinese online retailer JD.com announced plans to sell French goods worth two billion euros (US$2.4 billion) to Chinese consumers over the next two years — including high-end wine and cognac — and spend 100 million euros on French industrial products.

In a keynote speech on Monday, Macron urged the EU to participate in Xi’s cherished $1 trillion Silk Road trade infrastructure project despite misgivings, though he warned that the initiative should not create a “new hegemony”.

Macron and Xi held a private meeting Monday night and were due to hold more talks on Tuesday.

The French leader told reporters he discussed the Silk Road initiative with Xi “at length”.

“We will see how things are done,” Macron said as he attended a forum on Artificial Intelligence in Beijing on Tuesday.

Communist Party congress 

Macron and his wife Brigitte were accompanied by students from the French international school and a French historian as they walked along the red-walled palaces of former Chinese emperors at the Forbidden City.

On a sunny but bitterly cold day, Macron asked historian Patrice Fava to translate a banner which read “With fairness, govern from the centre”.

“It’s important. It’s symbolic,” said Brigitte Macron, whose husband campaigned as a centrist candidate in the French presidential election.

It is the first state visit by a European leader since China’s Communist Party congress in October, which reinforced Xi’s grip on power as he was formally handed a second term and his named was enshrined in the party’s constitution.

Beijing has praised Macron’s decision to make China his first state visit to an Asian nation.

At the Forbidden City’s pavilion of Supreme Harmony, Macron drew a parallel with the 19th Communist Party congress.

“This also allows us to better understand one of the themes of the 19th Congress raised by President Xi Jinping,” Macron said. “This also comes from a profoundly anchored history in this country.”

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French President Emmanuel Macron visits Forbidden City before China deals, Xi Jinping talks