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China hopes France can help take heat out of relations with EU

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Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng shaking hands with French Minister of Economy and Finances Bruno Le Maire during the 9th China-France High Level Economic and Financial Dialogue at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing on July 29, 2023.

Pedro Pardo | Afp | Getty Images

China hopes France can “stabilize the tone” of EU-China relations, vice-premier He Lifeng told a senior French minister in Beijing on Saturday, as European leaders debate how to “de-risk” but also cooperate with the world’s second-largest economy.

He also told Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire that China is willing to deepen cooperation with France in traditional areas such as finance as well as in science and technological innovation, in contrast with Beijing’s more cautious though candid talks with visiting top U.S. officials.

“It is hoped that France will stabilize the tone of friendly cooperation between China and the EU,” He said in opening remarks before an afternoon of discussions at Beijing’s Diaoyutai State Guest house, adding that China believes its bilateral ties with France “have a good foundation.”

While recent visits to China by U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen hinged on talk of “decoupling,” France’s top trade official suggested a “deadline of the end of 2024 to reinforce our economic and financial operations,” ahead of the two countries’ ninth Economic and Financial Dialogue.

China is France’s third largest trade partner behind the European Union and the United States, but French firms are becoming increasingly concerned they could get caught in the crossfire of rising rivalry between the world’s two economic superpowers.

European Union governments last month also approved an 11th tranche of sanctions against Russia that could hit Chinese firms considered to be circumventing measures already in place.

We would like to welcome major new investments from China to French territory.

Bruno Le Maire

French economy minister

Le Maire said the three challenges the two countries should work together on are the green transition, reorganization of value chains, and technological revolution, while also raising market access issues for French companies in the banking, nuclear, cosmetics and agricultural industries.

“It is essential to think about the expansion and deepening of economic and financial cooperation between France and China,” Le Maire said. “We would like to welcome major new investments from China to French territory.”

In a news conference after the discussions, Le Maire said important advances had been made in French-Chinese relations in the cosmetics, aerospace, food and beverages, and finance sectors, while He said the Chinese side appreciated France’s decision to extend Huawei 5G licences in some cities.

China’s He told his guests the meeting was a “positive signal that China and France will work together to address challenges and inject stability into an uncertain world,” which has “accelerated into a new situation of instability and uncertainty” not seen in 100 years.

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