Chinese President Xi Jinping has found one country in Europe that isn’t worried about China’s growing global clout or its ambitions to dominate the future of technology: Monaco.
Xi visited the tiny Mediterranean principality Sunday as part of a European tour that is clouded by mixed feelings about how to engage with China and benefit from its trade — while setting limits on its appetite for greater economic and diplomatic influence.
Xi’s appearance alongside Monaco’s Prince Albert and Princess Charlene marks the first state visit by a Chinese president to the principality. The palace said Monaco is seeking to boost its trade and economic cooperation with China, without providing details on eventual contracts to be signed.
Monaco last year clinched a deal with Chinese tech company Huawei to develop its 5G telecommunications network — a thorny issue for several European countries.
The U.S. government says Huawei’s 5G network could give Chinese security services a backdoor to spy on consumers, and has pressed European partners to shun it. Huawei says the fear is unfounded.
Monaco banned all flights in its airspace during Xi’s brief visit and any sailing in its waters or mooring in its luxury yacht-filled harbor.
The Chinese leader will dine Sunday with French President Emmanuel Macron in the French Mediterranean resort town of Beaulieu-sur-Mer. A police boat and police divers worked to secure the area before his arrival, and security cordons blocked several roads in Nice, where Xi will stay overnight.
Xi will sign energy and other contracts with Macron on Monday, then meet in Paris on Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
The European Union is China’s biggest trading partner, but many in Europe worry about unfair competition from Chinese companies that benefit from government financial backing.
Xi comes to Monaco and France from Italy, which just endorsed a vast Chinese transport infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative. Macron criticized Italy’s move, calling for a concerted European approach to China instead.
“There is this bad European habit to have 28 different policies, with countries competing against each other to attract investment,” a top French official said. “We need to speak with a common voice if we want to exist. We have the same approach on the 5G issue: avoiding 28 different decisions.”