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Xi says EU, China 'advancing together' despite 'suspicions'

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Mr Macron (second from left) welcoming Mr Juncker, Mrs Merkel and Mr Xi before a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Tuesday.

Paris

CHINESE President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday that China and Europe were "advancing together" but that the two trading blocs needed to overcome "suspicions".

"Of course there are differences and competition, but it's positive competition," Mr Xi told a press conference in Paris with the leaders of France, Germany and the European Commission. "We are advancing together. We shouldn't let suspicions lead us to be constantly looking backwards."

Mr Xi was speaking on the third day of a France visit dominated by concerns over China's massive investments on the continent, which are being built up through a series of bilateral deals.

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French President Emmanuel Macron urged his Chinese counterpart to "respect the unity of the European Union (EU)" and called for an "exemplary relationship" between Europe and China during the joint press conference.

"No one is naive but we respect China," Mr Macron said, while adding that EU leaders "naturally expect our major partners to respect the unity of the European Union and the values that it has and carries in the world".

Mr Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker all labelled China a "rival", and Mrs Merkel and Mr Juncker urged the Asian giant to give the EU the same market access as it afforded Chinese companies.

Referring to China's vast "New Silk Road" infrastructure project connecting the country with Europe, which has sparked unease in the EU, Mrs Merkel said: "We Europeans want to play a role." But, she added, "there has to be a bit of reciprocity on either side and we have a bit of difficulty in finding it."

Mr Juncker said that labelling China a rival was meant as a "compliment" to the country. Speaking ahead of a EU-China summit on April 12, he also called for a more balanced relationship. "European businesses must see the openness in China" that Chinese companies enjoyed on the continent, he noted.

The EU has struck a more cautious stance recently toward China, releasing a report this month underscoring the need to recognise that the Asian nation is an "economic competitor" and "systemic rival" that should no longer be considered a developing country. That position hasn't precluded member states from pursuing investment opportunities with Beijing.

On Monday, the Chinese announced a US$35 billion order for jets from Airbus SE, the joint European planemaker.

Mr Macron accepted that the opening of Europe's market to China has created tensions in society. "We saw the imbalances in terms of production, the economic and social changes, deep tensions that legitimately push toward demands for protection," Mr Macron said. "Our desire is for these tensions not to fracture the global trade order or to create new conflicts, isolation or withdrawal," he pointed out.

Mr Macron and Mr Xi also issued an unprecedented call for a "global push" to halt biodiversity loss, which threatens species and habitats across the planet. In a joint statement following trade talks between EU leaders and the Chinese president in Paris, France and China promised to work together "against environmental crimes, especially poaching and trafficking of species threatened with extinction".

The statement contained a series of environmental pledges alongside security and economic declarations, including unspecified commitments to support actions to reduce plastic pollution and protect marine ecosystems in Antarctica.

France and China also pledged to implement "all dimensions" of the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord, which aims to limit global temperature rises to "well below" two degrees Celsius. AFP, BLOOMBERG

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