President Xi Jinping has visited Italy, Monaco and France, his first trip abroad in 2019. The European tour is expected to strengthen the EU's strategic partnerships with China.
In France, Xi was received by French President Emmanuel Macron. The two heads of state will meet at Élysée, the French presidential palace in Paris, during Xi's last day on Tuesday in the country.
The occasion marks Xi's second visit to France since 2014. In 1964, France became the first major Western country to establish diplomatic ties with China. The fact that Xi visited France this year, which marks the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Beijing and Paris, reveals the importance of China-France relations.
France has also voiced support to the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Efforts are currently underway between Chinese and French governments on BRI third-party market cooperation. Such efforts involve combining the manufacturing prowess of China and the advanced technology of France to provide competitive products and services for third countries.
Since Charles de Gaulle, France has pursued independent and pragmatic diplomacy and has always valued its relationship with China. Since first taking office, Macron has upheld the country's diplomatic traditions.
Unlike the US, France did not shun Huawei from the country's telecommunications market. Macron asked for sovereignty respect from foreign nations such as the US regarding investment.
When Macron met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in January at Élysée, he announced that he wanted to make use of the opportunity provided by the 55th anniversary to bolster cooperation with China in areas related to trade and investment, nuclear energy, and aviation.
Media has already reported that during Xi's visit, China could sign up to purchase more airliners from Airbus, a major competitor of Boeing.
After Brexit, France will be the only permanent member of the UN Security Council from the EU. It will be in the interests of China and France, both UNSC permanent members, to promote multilateralism and increase cooperation on global issues like climate change and anti-terrorism.
Apart from the diplomatic level, cultural exchange has played a significant role between China and France.
In recent years, there has been an increasing number of bilateral cultural exchanges. Close to 40,000 Chinese students were studying in France in 2018. By 2020, Chinese students are expected to become the largest group of international students in France. Moreover, in 2018 alone, 2.3 million Chinese tourists visited France, setting a new all-time high.
The French are interested in Chinese culture. More students today in France are studying Chinese as a second language, just right after English. French students are aware that China is the second largest economy in the world and exchanges between Europe and China will continue to grow.
China's cuisine is popular in France, although most restaurants offer a French version of Chinese food. Although China is far from France, those who can afford it will travel to China at least once in their lifetime.
The French welcome Chinese visitors, the highest-spending demographic in the world, to shop and experience their country's food and culture.
There are some patriotic French nationals who do not want to see that some French brands have been bought by Chinese companies, such as the Fosun International-owned Club Med. But in general, the French welcome Chinese investment. Chinese companies spent close to $1.7 billion in 2018 buying French companies.
The Chinese community in France hopes Xi's visit will further boost relations between both countries and create more job opportunities for Chinese living in France.
China-France relations are expected to involve greater collaboration this year. Both sides have planned activities that include celebrating the 55th anniversary of diplomatic ties and a trip to China by French ministers. Meanwhile, France has expressed willingness to participate in the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation next month in Beijing.
The author is a freelance journalist based in Paris.