PARIS/ROME/MILAN – As he prepares to begin a three-day trip to France, Chinese President Xi Jinping said he is hoping to get France’s cooperation “in the framework of the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.”
In a letter published in the Le Figaro newspaper, Xi called for more trade and investment between the two countries. He listed nuclear energy, aeronautics, space and agriculture as industries with potential for deeper ties.
“French investors are welcome to share the opportunities of development in China,” Xi wrote. “I equally hope that Chinese companies can better succeed in France.”
Italy on Saturday became the first Group of Seven country to sign a “Belt and Road” memorandum, agreeing to cooperate in the Chinese-led initiative to build trade-promoting infrastructure across the planet.
France, for its part, doesn’t plan to sign any such memorandum but it is seeking Chinese investment. President Emmanuel Macron on Friday said the European Union needs to approach relations with China together and not as individual countries.
Xi is set to arrive in France on Sunday following an official visit to Italy. He’ll dine with Macron near Nice, in the south of France, before holding more formal bilateral talks in Paris on Monday where they are expected to sign a series of investment contracts. The two leaders will be joined Tuesday morning by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
French officials said Merkel and Juncker were invited to bring a “European” element to the visit. “Europe has woken up about China,” Macron said when he arrived to attend a summit in Brussels on Thursday. “Since the beginning of my mandate, I’ve called for a defense of European sovereignty.”
Italy’s signing of the accord has sparked worries in the U.S. and European Union over the Asian power’s push for economic domination.
The memorandum of understanding between the two sides was formally approved at the Renaissance-era Villa Madama in Rome on Saturday.
Chinese and Italian companies signed 10 agreements potentially worth as much as €20 billion ($23 billion), Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio said.
“Today is a day in which Made in Italy, Italy, Italian companies win,” Di Maio told reporters after the signings. The memorandum of understanding that he helped formulate as economic development minister is designed to produce even closer business ties in years to come.
Xi and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte sat in front of Chinese, Italian and European Union flags for the ceremony in a frescoed hall.
Italy and China must “set up more efficacious relations and improve relations which are already very good,” Conte told Xi earlier at the start of a bilateral meeting, according to a live TV feed of opening remarks.
The business accords involve firms including energy giant Eni, gas pipeline operator Snam SpA, engineering company Ansaldo Energia SpA, and bank Intesa Sanpaolo.
They also include an agreement between the ports of Trieste and Genova and the China Communications Construction Co.
Government representatives and officials from the two countries signed 19 other accords ranging from countering tax evasion to encouraging startups and boosting citrus fruit exports from Italy to China.
Xi’s visit comes at a time when Washington is losing its fight to persuade allies to lock Huawei Technologies Co. out of planned 5G telecommunications networks. The U.S. is concerned the Italians’ willingness to go along with the Chinese infrastructure project is another sign of its allies softening on Beijing, a U.S. official said.