Chinese diplomacy of the “personal touch” | EUROtoday

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Chinese President Xi Jinping's go to to France, Monday and Tuesday, features a “more intimate” stage in keeping with the Élysée. Emmanuel Macron will certainly welcome his Chinese counterpart within the Hautes-Pyrénées, a division the place the French president has sturdy household ties. A really private diplomacy within the continuity of Franco-Chinese relations.

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First France. Then Hungary and Serbia. Chinese President Xi Jinping begins in France on Monday May 6 and Tuesday May 7, his first European tour because the finish of the pandemic. This go to comes as China and France have a good time 60 years of their diplomatic relations. An alternative for Paris to have “exchanges on international crises, first and foremost the war in Ukraine and the situation in the Middle East, trade issues, scientific, cultural and sporting cooperation”. But not solely…

It will maybe even be about tales from youth. Emmanuel Macron has in reality deliberate for his illustrious visitor an astonishing regional break within the Hautes-Pyrénées on Tuesday, for a retreat described as “intimate” by the entourage of the presidential couple.

From Xi Jinping's father to Emmanuel Macron's grandmother

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron will welcome Xi Jinping and his spouse Peng Liyuan and can go to the La Mongie ski resort. The two heads of state will then have a non-public dialogue on the Col du Tourmalet, a legendary summit for Tour de France lovers. Everything will maybe lastly be punctuated by a photograph of the 2 males on the prime of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre. But the exact particulars of Xi Jinping's go to are nonetheless being stored secret.

Why this mountain getaway? The media didn’t fail to spotlight Emmanuel Macron's private and household attachment to this area, the place his grandmother lived. As a toddler, he typically visited her in Bagnères-de-Bigorre the place she lived and he made La Mongie his favourite ski resort.

Map of the location of the main places in the Hautes-Pyrénées where part of Xi Jinping's visit to France will take place.
Bagnères-de-Bigorre: city of residence of Emmanuel Macron's grandmother La Mongie: place of residence of the Chinese delegation Col du Tourmalet: assembly place between Emmanuel Macron and Xi Jinping Pic du Midi: doable final stage of Xi Jinping's journey to the Hautes-Pyrénées

This journey to the center of Occitanie can be a means for Emmanuel Macron to return the favor to Xi Jinping who had already added a private contact to the official relations between the 2 males. During his journey to China in 2023, the French president was invited to a tea ceremony on the palace of the governor of Guangdong province, in Guangzhou, the place Xi Jinping's father resided.

It can be not the primary time within the historical past of Sino-French relations that summit conferences are sprinkled with “personal touches” and different symbols. Thus in 1999, “Jiang Zemin [président chinois de 1993 à 2003, NDLR] was welcomed at the Château de Bity, property of Jacques and Bernadette Chirac in Corrèze. Then the French president was invited to the birthplace of his Chinese counterpart in Yangzhou [est de la Chine]”, underlines Jean-Pierre Cabestan, China specialist at Asia Centre, a suppose tank in Paris.

François Hollande, for his half, most well-liked to play the cardboard of sturdy symbols by inviting Xi Jinping to a dinner on the Palace of Versailles in 2014.

A particular story

These mutual attentions which give a really private dimension to the diplomatic relationship, “it is often with France that China does it”, acknowledges Emmanuel Lincot, sinologist and professor on the Catholic Institute of Paris.

This is partly as a result of very explicit historical past of relations between the 2 international locations. “France was certainly not the first country to recognize the People's Republic of China sixty years ago, but it was the first to establish equal relations on the diplomatic level with an exchange of ambassadors. And China is very attached to it,” emphasizes Emmanuel Lincot.

If Beijing plays the card of personal diplomacy so much and Xi Jinping chose France to launch his European tour it is because historically “France has the status, particularly in China, of getting a international coverage extra unbiased of UNITED STATES [que d’autres pays en Europe, NDLR]”, assures Jean-Pierre Cabestan. An image which is notably due to the anti-American posture adopted at the time by Charles de Gaulle (1960s) and which has long been claimed by part of the French political class.

Read alsoTour de France: these convicts who forged the reputation of Tourmalet

Xi Jinping has everything to gain from cultivating an image of closeness with the French president. The upcoming photos of the Chinese leader with Emmanuel Macron in a more “intimate” setting will “unquestionably be interpreted in China because the celebration of a specific unique relationship with a Western nation”, underlines Emmanuel Lincot. A valuable signal sent to both Chinese and international opinion in the current context of tension between Beijing and Washington.

This emphasis on the personal proximity between Xi Jinping and Emmanuel Macron must also be understood in the more general context of Sino-European relations. “The only thing China is afraid of are the sanctions that the European Union could take as a bloc of countries. This is why Beijing seeks to prioritize bilateral relations as much as possible,” explains Jean-Vincent Brisset , associate researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) who has worked on China's foreign policy. Personal gestures and exchanges of family memories at the foot of Tourmalet or in Canton thus allow Xi Jinping to maintain a direct relationship with France outside the European framework. This is the principle of “divide and rule” or to better avoid having to face a common European front, explains Jean-Vincent Brisset.

French error?

Emmanuel Macron also hopes to benefit from this staging of a very personal relationship with his Chinese counterpart. “The French president is thus seeking to emphasize that he can speak to everyone,” assures Emmanuel Lincot. For this expert, the French leader thus intends to perpetuate the Gaullian tradition which consists of having his own voice on the international scene. What better way to do this than to display a certain familiarity with one of Washington's main adversaries?

More prosaically, “on an financial degree, this type of extra private relationship can have optimistic repercussions for France. And then it is usually a means of displaying this a part of France, the Pyrenees, to potential Chinese vacationers who, till now, solely had eyes for the Côte d'Azur and Ile-de-France”, estimates Emmanuel Lincot.

See alsoXi Jinping's visit to France: “The relationship between France and China has deteriorated”

He can also hope that his Chinese interlocutor will thus lend a more attentive ear to French diplomatic requests. “In my opinion, considering that may be an error. But however, from the second Emmanuel Macron accepted Xi Jinping's go to to France, he needed to provide a extra private dimension to this assembly [en contrepartie de la cérémonie du thé à Canton, NDLR]”, says Jean-Vincent Brisset.

Even more critical, Jean-François Cabestan believes that “giving a private contact to the Franco-Chinese relationship to advance its diplomatic agenda is to delude oneself. Chinese leaders […] know very properly find out how to fake to have feelings to raised dominate the negotiation.

Emmanuel Macron will rapidly be capable to know if his “personal” method has borne fruit. One of the details on the French diplomatic agenda might be to push China to place stress on Russia. But Beijing has already introduced that shortly after the top of the European tour, Xi Jinping is predicted to welcome Russian President Vladimir Putin to Beijing. For the consultants interviewed by France 24, it’s a secure guess that this might be a possibility for the 2 leaders to recall their “special” relationship.