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What to Know About Xi Jinping’s Trip to Europe

This week, for the first time in five years, President Xi Jinping of China will be visiting Europe, with stops in France, Serbia and Hungary.

Mr. Xi’s trip comes at a time of tensions with many European countries over China’s support for Russia in the face of its war in Ukraine, its trade practices and its apparent espionage activities. The trip will also test Europe’s delicate balancing act between China and the United States.

Mr. Xi hopes to head off a trade war with the European Union as frictions rise over exports of Chinese electric vehicles and diminished market access for European companies in China. Mr. Xi will also encourage President Emmanuel Macron of France to pursue greater autonomy from the United States in a bid to weaken Washington’s global dominance.

Here is what we know about Mr. Xi’s trip, which began Sunday.

The three countries Mr. Xi will be visiting, experts say, to varying degrees embrace China’s push for a redefined global order. All have to some extent questioned America’s postwar ordering of the world, and are eager to bolster ties with Beijing.

Hungary has close ties to China and is keen to attract Chinese investments in areas like electric car and battery manufacturing as Chinese producers expand beyond Asia. Serbia, too, has warm relations with Beijing and has secured billions of dollars in Chinese investment.

Mr. Xi’s first stop will be France, where Mr. Macron recently said that Europe “must never be a vassal of the United States,” and has cast France as a bridge between the “Global South” and Western powers.

Despite his courting of Beijing, Mr. Macron has said he is still closer to its ally, the United States, than to China.

“I prefer to choose my relationship with the United States, with China, rather than have it imposed on me by one of the two parties, either pushing me in one direction or pulling me in the other,” he said in an interview with The Economist magazine. But, he added. “Very clearly, we are not equidistant. We are allies of the Americans.”

Before Mr. Xi’s visit, Chinese diplomats expressed hopes that ties between France and China would be at the forefront of China’s relations with the West.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the E.U.’s executive branch, will on Monday join talks with Mr. Xi and Mr. Macron in Paris.

This year is also a symbolic one for China and the three countries.

It is the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and France and the 75th of those with Hungary.

This year is also the 25th anniversary of the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, during the Kosovo war, which killed three Chinese journalists and set off angry protests at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Chinese authorities have continued to point to the bombing as a sign of NATO aggression and an example of why Russia was justified in feeling threatened before it decided to invade Ukraine.

Mr. Xi’s last European visit was in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, which he spent hunkered down in China, leaving the country’s borders for the first time in the fall of 2022.

The 2019 trip included a flashy ceremony in Rome to celebrate Italy’s participation in China’s Belt and Road global infrastructure project, which is aimed at expanding China’s influence abroad. France rolled out the red carpet for Mr. Xi in Paris and signed more than a dozen commercial and governmental treaties worth billions of euros, even as Mr. Macron warned that “China plays on our divisions” and that “the period of European naïveté is over.”

Mr. Xi also visited Greece, where he pledged his support to the country in its struggle with Britain to obtain the Parthenon sculptures known as the Elgin Marbles.

Since Mr. Xi’s last visit, there has been a widening rift in the relationship between China and much of Europe. The coronavirus pandemic, Beijing’s embrace of Russia and its repression of ethnic minorities, and a surge in Chinese exports have generated backlashes against China in many European countries.

China has quintupled car shipments to foreign markets in recent years, and the European Union has recently adopted a more confrontational tone over China’s trade practices. E.U. authorities have opened an investigation that could result in limits on Chinese solar exports, and have taken preliminary steps toward restricting trade with Chinese goods that include electric cars, wind turbines and medical devices.

Italy has also told China that it would no longer participate in its Belt and Road Initiative, and last month, six people in Europe were charged with spying for China in the span of a week, in a sign that European countries are stepping up their response to Chinese espionage.

At the same time, European nations vary in their views on how to engage with Beijing and benefit from economic opportunities there, and some are fearful of any imposition of European tariffs.

Mr. Macron and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany also think that China’s leverage will be critical in bringing an end to the war in Ukraine.

David Pearson in Hong Kong and Aurelien Breeden in Paris contributed reporting.

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