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China's President Xi Jinping begins a 5-day tour in Europe


China's president is visiting Europe. Xi Jinping says he wants to deepen Chinese investment in countries that the United States would like to align against China where necessary.


The Chinese leader can expect two different welcomes. He's holding a state visit with the president of France, where Chinese trade practices are seen as unfair and China is seen as the strategic partner of a hostile Russia. He's also traveling to Serbia and Hungary, whose leaders see China more as a friend.

INSKEEP: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is in Paris. Welcome.


INSKEEP: OK. So what's President Xi doing with French president Emmanuel Macron?

BEARDSLEY: Well, first of all, they're going to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Franco-Chinese relations. France was one of the first Western countries to recognize the People's Republic of China in 1964, Steve, some 15 years before the U.S. did. There'll be red carpet, state dinner, and all that, but the real substance will be about trade and the war in Ukraine. Take trade - Macron will not be meeting Xi alone. He is bringing in European Union Commission head, Ursula von der Leyen. These talks are not just about France. They concern the EU and its 400 million plus market of consumers. China is among the EU's top trading partners, but things are not well. The EU says China's market-distorting practices create an unfair playing field, says China is subsidizing its electric car and solar panel industry and flooding the EU market. This could kill the electric car industry in Europe. And here's a figure - 97% of solar panels in the EU are made in China.

INSKEEP: Wow. A story we've heard in the United States where China is producing desirable products but at prices that threaten local manufacturers. Are European countries all on the same page about what to do?

BEARDSLEY: No, they're not, and Xi knows this, and he's not against dividing Europe. I spoke with Philippe Le Corre, senior fellow with the Asia Society Policy Institute and a professor at ESSEC Business School in Paris. Here's what he said.

PHILIPPE LE CORRE: President Xi Jinping probably thinks that he can have a good conversation about Europe and how it can detach itself from the United States, which, of course, is not so easy.

BEARDSLEY: Well, China wants, of course, a multipolar world, not one led by the U.S., and Macron, too, has spoken about strategic autonomy for Europe. He's said that Europe should find its own path and cannot always rely on or follow the U.S. And here's what Le Corre said about Macron.

LE CORRE: He will try to play the middleman, and he presents himself as somebody who can speak to both the United States and China. Not many people can do that these days. So in this very changing geopolitical environment, Macron thinks he can have his third way.

INSKEEP: Although Macron has a particular side that he's picked in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely, Steve. And Macron will warn Xi of the dangers of backing Russia in its invasion of Ukraine. This war is a huge threat to European security and stability, and Macron is saying that all the time now. Beijing may not be supplying weapons outright to Moscow but it is providing machine tools, parts and computer chips that Russia is using in weapons production. Macron will put pressure on China to use its influence with Russia over this war. He's already talked about a truce during the Olympic Games this summer.

INSKEEP: Eleanor, it makes perfect sense that the President of China would go to France but why Serbia and Hungary?

BEARDSLEY: It'll be a completely different atmosphere, a very warm welcome for Xi, for Beijing. These are like-minded countries. Chinese are the biggest investor in Serbia, which shares a resentment of NATO from the Kosovo War 25 years ago, and Xi may announce a new electric car vehicle plant in Hungary. And both of these countries, we might add, have good relations with Russia.

INSKEEP: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley. Thanks so much.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.