France | Macron takes Xi to the Pyrenees for a “personal” getaway

(Tarbes) Presidents Emmanuel Macron and Xi Jinping arrived in the Pyrenees on Tuesday, on the second day of the Chinese leader’s state visit, for a “personal” getaway supposed to allow a more direct dialogue on the war in Ukraine or disagreements commercial.

“Our French mountains”, “I hope, will continue to inspire us”, launched the French president lyrically on Monday, welcoming his Chinese counterpart to Paris for the first time since 2019. He said he expected, in the Hautes -Pyrenees, for “fruitful and friendly discussions”.

The head of state’s plane and that of the Chinese president landed in Tarbes late in the morning, AFP journalists noted.

Both are expected at the Col du Tourmalet, the legendary climb of the Tour de France cycle race, where the weather is still wintery, even if the season is over at the La Mongie ski resort.

Around a hundred people came to show their support for President Xi and dozens of red flags with five yellow stars colored the edges of the road leading to the pass.

“It’s really strange to see this here,” said Jean-Michel Garem, a retiree, smiling.

Emmanuel Macron and Xi Jinping, accompanied by their wives, will have lunch at the restaurant of Éric Abadie, a breeder and friend of the French president. As if echoing the tea ceremony they shared last year in Canton, in the official residence where the Chinese president’s father lived when he was governor of Guangdong province.

A setting which contrasts with that of the presidential palace where they did not seek to hide the trade disputes between Europe and China.

President Macron called for a “fair competition framework”, congratulating himself, at the end of the discussions, on having protected French cognac from the threat of “provisional” Chinese customs taxes.

Invited to display a united continental front, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen warned that the European Union would take “firm decisions” to “protect its economy”, denouncing the influx of massively subsidized Chinese electric vehicles.

“The so-called ‘China overcapacity problem’ does not exist,” Xi Jinping replied dryly.

On Ukraine, he wanted to be more consensual, reaffirming his desire to work towards a political solution.

And he supported an “Olympic truce” during the Paris Games this summer, advocated by Emmanuel Macron. According to a French diplomatic source, this truce could serve, with regard to Ukraine, to initiate a more political process after more than two years of war.

But Paris, which has insisted for a year that Beijing puts pressure on Russia to help end the war, wants to be “lucid” about the prospects for a rapid breakthrough. Especially since the Chinese president remains the main ally of his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, whom he is due to receive soon.


The Pyrenean stage could, in the mind of the French delegation, encourage “a frank and friendly exchange” on these thorny subjects. The idea is to break the imposing protocol which accompanies the slightest movement of the Chinese number one.

This corner of the mountain is “directly linked to the very personal story” of Emmanuel Macron, explains those around him. The one who is celebrating the 7th anniversary of his first election on Tuesday spent many holidays between the town of Bagnères-de-Bigorre and La Mongie with his grandparents.

“Emmanuel Macron’s diplomacy has always relied, perhaps excessively, on the power of seduction,” analyzes Bertrand Badie, specialist in international relations at Sciences Po. “There has always been with him the idea that his personal relationships could overturn structures,” he adds.

“But this is not knowing Xi Jinping, who is not really a great sentimentalist,” warns the researcher.

The Socialist candidate for the European elections in June Raphaël Glucksmann denounced the “friendly tone” of this official visit. “The man who deports the Uyghurs, who represses the Hong Kongers and the Tibetans is not our friend,” he declared.

His right-wing opponent François-Xavier Bellamy (Les Républicains, opposition) also pointed out Beijing’s “interference” and its “aggressive strategy to bring down our economy”.

The head of the Macronist list Valérie Hayer defended the desire to have “a direct and frank dialogue”.

Bertrand Badie agrees: with Xi Jinping’s China, “there is real work to be done” because no one, until now, “has found the key to Euro-Chinese relations”.


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