"Although some French leaders have previously said unflattering things about China, China's huge market and the rise of its power are facts that cannot be ignored", Zhou Rong, a senior researcher at the Chongyang Financial Research Institute of the Renmin University of China, told Sputnik China, commenting on President Xi Jinping's meeting with the leaders of Germany, France and the EU in Paris.
While on 22 March in Brussels European leaders signalled their deep concerns over the Sino-Italian New Silk Road plan with Emmanuel Macron being one of the most vocal critics of Beijing, just a few days later the French president launched nothing short of "a charm offensive" against President Xi, according to The Guardian.
"[T]he French president took the unprecedented step of inviting the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, to Paris for the talks", the media outlet highlighted.
Zhou noted that China and France have a lot of in common in terms of foreign policy.
"Unlike some other countries, China and France traditionally pursue an independent foreign policy, not being subject to external influence", the Chinese researcher opined. "This year marks the 16th anniversary of the establishment of a comprehensive strategic partnership between China and the EU. France is the key EU country, and Europe plays a significant role in the system of international relations, therefore, mutual contacts between China and France are very important".
The scholar emphasised that the trade volume between China and France had exceeded $60 billion in 2018, beating the all-time record. According to Zhou, the two countries are maintaining cooperation in various fields including nuclear power, aerospace, medicine, healthcare, finance, ecology, and artificial intelligence (AI).
He opined that the most important outcome of Xi's visit to Paris was a 30 billion euro Sino-French contract for the purchase of 300 Airbus aircraft. Zhou noted that Beijing was interested in developing contacts with Airbus amid Boeing's problems triggered by two catastrophes over five months.
At the same time he believes that Xi's visit to Italy was an important milestone on the path to bolstering Sino-European relations.
"The visit of Chairman Xi Jinping to Italy was also of great importance", the researcher highlighted. "Previously, he had visited Spain and Portugal, which are major Western European countries. This shows that China's diplomacy is full of vitality and flexibility".
On 23 March, Italy officially approved China's Belt and Road (BRI) industrial initiative becoming the first member of the Group of Seven (G7) economies to join the project.
Why Europe Can No Longer Ignore China's Interests
According to Mikhail Belyaev, an analyst at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS), "China is becoming an economic and political force so that the EU can no longer unilaterally make decisions directly affecting the interests of China".
"China is a polite but tough negotiator who is hard to convince", the analyst stressed. "I believe that China will explain to Europe that it is not advisable and reasonable to take tough sanctions measures. And Europe, too, understands that it is very difficult to exist without China, given both the forecasts for China's development and the prospects for redrawing the geopolitical map of the world".
Belyaev noted that one of the examples of that approach is Italy's decision to join the China-led One Belt and One Road initiative. Although currently Italy is not the strongest European player, Rome's decision is an indicator of Europe's drift to the East, according to the analyst.
"France and Germany understand that the Belt and Road is a trend that is very difficult to reverse, because it is a strategic project of China", he stressed. "It is supported by both financial and political resources; this is a trend of world turning towards the East".
He suggested that Paris and Berlin are likely to take a wait-and-see approach, unlike Italy, which is seeking to solve its economic problems through participation in the New Silk Road initiative.
Subsequently, China and Italy signed almost 50 cooperation agreements, while in France they concluded just 14 contracts in various fields, he noted.
"Unlike Italy, France and Germany are European leaders", Belyaev said. "They understand that if they give up their positions under the pressure of momentary pragmatic economic interest, they will obviously lose in politics. And it would not be the loss of just political leverage, but completely obvious moral damage".
The analyst believes that Paris and Berlin understand that the participation of their countries in the China-led initiative is just a matter of time. However, due to their political interests, they will try to postpone their accession to the Belt and Road as long as possible.