Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 June 2019

French president bets on animal diplomacy on his first state visit to China

Emmanuel Macron is presenting his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping with a Republican Guard horse as a gift

French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron listen to a priest during a visit to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in the northern Chinese city of Xian, China. Ludovic Marin / Reuters
French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron listen to a priest during a visit to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in the northern Chinese city of Xian, China. Ludovic Marin / Reuters

In response to panda power, French president Emmanuel Macron is betting on equine diplomacy during his first state visit to China - presenting his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping with a horse as a gift.

The animal, a retired Republican Guard horse named Vesuve de Brekka, is in quarantine. But Mr Macron will show a photo of it to Mr Xi when they meet later on Monday in Beijing.

The French presidential office said Mr Xi had been "fascinated" by their equestrian skills when he was escorted by the guard during his visit to Paris in 2014.

"Wishing to have friendly ties with foreign heads of state, Emmanuel Macron wants to make more than a gift - a diplomatic gesture," the president's office said.

The eight-year-old dark brown horse took part in its last presidential escort on November 11 on the Champs-Elysees. The horses are ridden by sword-wielding guards on formal occasions.

Mr Macron will also offer president Xi a saber engraved with the phrase "Mr Emmanuel Macron - President of the French Republic - Beijing - January 2018".

The gift is Mr Macron's answer to China's panda diplomacy. And the French leader's name in Mandarin is rendered "Ma-ke-long", or "the horse vanquishes the dragon".

The horse arrived in China on a special plane accompanied by the Republican Guard's chief veterinarian and a member of the unit on January 4, four days before Mr Macron.

Mr Macron state visit to China began at the starting point of the ancient Silk Road, a nod to his Chinese counterpart's scheme to revive the famous trading route.

Along with his wife Brigitte, the French president visited the famous terracotta warriors in the northern city of Xian, a centuries-old Big Wild Goose Pagoda - a Buddhist site - as well as the city's mosque.

The 8,000-man clay army, crafted around 250 BC for the tomb of China's first emperor Qin Shihuang, is a symbol of ancient artistic and military sophistication in a country that proclaims itself a 5,000-year-old civilisation.


Read more:

Emmanuel Macron leads tribute to victims of Paris terrorist attacks

China's Didi strengthens Brazilian presence through controlling stake in 99


Mr Macron is beginning the three-day visit in Xian as a gesture to Mr Xi's colossal New Silk Road project, an ambitious initiative to connect Asia and Europe by road, rail and sea.

The US$1 trillion infrastructure programme is billed as a modern revival of the ancient Silk Road that once carried fabric, spices, and a wealth of other goods in both directions.

Known in China as "One Belt One Road", the plan is to see gleaming new road and rail networks built through Central Asia and beyond, and new maritime routes stretching through the Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

The project has elicited both interest and anxiety, with some in Europe seeing it as Chinese expansionism.

While France had been cautious on it, Mr Macron heartily endorsed the initiative in an interview with China.org.cn posted on Monday.

"It represents a real opportunity to create bridges, through exchange, between countries and civilisations, just as the ancient silk routes once did," Mr Macron said.

"I think it's very important that Europe and China strengthen their collaboration on the initiative. France is ready to play a leading role in this."

But he warned that it should be carried out "within the framework of a balanced partnership" -- a reference to concerns about China's trade surpluses. France has a €30 billion trade deficit with China.

He will deliver a keynote speech later in Xian on the future of Franco-Chinese relations.

Mr Macron's first official visit to Asia marks a new stage for his diplomacy, which has so far been concentrated on Europe and Africa.

He plans to seek a "strategic partnership" with Beijing on issues including terrorism and climate change, and make Mr Xi an ally in implementing the Paris accord to fight climate change after the US pulled out of the deal.

After Xian, Macron will head to Beijing along with his delegation, which includes some 60 business executives and institutions.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron will meet with Mr Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, on Monday night. On Tuesday, he will visit the Forbidden City, meet top Chinese officials and oversee the signing of business deals.

Human Rights Watch has urged Mr Macron to publicly call for human rights improvements in China during his meeting with Mr Xi, but the French president's office said the matter would be addressed privately.

Updated: January 11, 2018 01:23 PM