French President Emmanuel Macron said France will be active in the Belt and Road Initiative, as he began his first official visit to China on Monday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Macron Monday evening. At their meeting in Beijing, Xi praised Macron's decision to visit China at the start of 2018.
France was the first major Western country to recognize the People's Republic of China in 1964, which Xi said demonstrated the political vision of the two countries' former leaders.
In "the new era," Xi said, the relations between the two countries could have greater potential, with development under the Belt and Road initiative and the ambition of jointly building a community of a shared future for mankind.
Macron said the Belt and Road initiative is truly important and France would like to participate actively, and France is also willing to work together with China to counter global challenges such as climate change, China's foreign ministry said in a press release.
The visit will become a milestone for France-China relations, Macron said at the meeting.
Before arriving in Beijing, Macron paid a half-day visit to China's ancient capital Xi'an, and admired the cultural landmarks including the Terracotta Warriors.
Unlike former French presidents like Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy who also traveled to Xi'an, Macron visited the centuries-old Big Wild Goose Pagoda at a Buddhist site and the Great Mosque of Xi'an.
Macron decided at the last minute to visit the pagoda, a lesser known cultural landmark in the West compared with the Terracotta Warriors, Reuters reported.
"From the French perspective, Xi'an is a starting point of Chinese civilization. The Terracotta Warriors are a symbol of China's powerful era, and visiting the Big Wild Goose Pagoda might show that he is a young leader who dares to have a try and take an unusual path," Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times.
"He visited both the pagoda and the mosque of the ancient capital, which shows that the young leader notices the tolerance and peaceful coexistence of different religions in the heyday of ancient China. This spirit of Chinese culture has realistic meaning to contemporary Europe to solve its problems," Cui added.
BUILDING STRONGER TIES
"I will visit China at least once a year during my presidency," Macron said on Twitter on Monday and posted photos of his trip to Xi'an.
It seems Macron intends to build stronger ties with China by institutionalizing and normalizing meetings between the two countries' national leaders, said Song Luzheng, a France-based scholar and research fellow of Fudan University's China Institute. Among the major powers, only Russia and Germany have this kind of institutionalized mechanism with China, Song said.
Apart from the Belt and Road initiative, Macron has also expressed his willingness to cooperate with China in Africa and emphasized the complementarity of Sino-French cooperation in Africa during an interview with china.org.cn before his visit.
"Today, China has a very strong presence in Africa, a continent in which it has heavily invested in with a financial capacity that we don't have. At the same time, France has a deep knowledge of Africa because of its history, its proximity to the continent, its Diaspora communities, which China doesn't have," he said.
"As a pragmatic young leader, Macron is more open minded than other old school Western politicians. He has more easily accepted the change brought by China's rise. Macron has political courage to face the reality and the change," said Cui Hongjian.
Next it will be important to see how Macron follows through with support for China, Song said.