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China's Xi lands in Serbia after talking Ukraine, trade in France

French President Emmanuel Macron urged Chna's Xi Jinping not to allow the export of any technology that could be used by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine (Ludovic MARIN)
French President Emmanuel Macron urged Chna's Xi Jinping not to allow the export of any technology that could be used by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine (Ludovic MARIN)

Xi Jinping arrived in Belgrade on Tuesday evening, after French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a high altitude lunch at a childhood haunt in the Pyrenees mountains for the Chinese leader.

On the next step in his European tour, Xi will hold talks with President Aleksandar Vucic in Serbia, where China has invested heavily to expand its economic footprint.

Serbian state broadcaster RTS showed Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan descend from their Air China aeroplane to be greeted by Vucic, with a small crowd of welcomers waiting along a red carpet dressed in traditional clothing and holding flags and flowers.

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In France, Macron pressed a message to Beijing not to support Russia's war against Ukraine and to accept fairer trade.

But the other two countries chosen by Xi for his first trip to Europe since 2019 -- Hungary is his final stop after Serbia -- are seen as among the most sympathetic to Moscow in Europe.

The first day of Xi's state visit to France saw respectful but sometimes robust exchanges between the two presidents during a succession of talks on Monday.

Macron, joined initially by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, urged Xi not to allow the export of any technology that could be used by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine and asked Beijing to do all it could to end the war.

Xi, for his part, warned the West not to "smear" China over the conflict and also hit back at accusations that Chinese overcapacity was causing global trade imbalances.

Macron welcomed Xi to a mountain restaurant outside the village of Bagnere-de-Bigorre to explore these issues in relative privacy, and to enjoy local delicacies.

While born and brought up in the north of France, the young "Manu" spent numerous winter and summer holidays with his late maternal grandparents in the area just below the Col du Tourmalet, over 2,000 metres (6,560 feet) above sea level and a legendary climb in the Tour de France cycling race.

The inclement weather -- with flurries of snow and mist blocking the spectacular views -- left the leaders and their wives, Brigitte Macron and Peng, firmly entrenched under umbrellas as they watched local dances.

But they were also all smiles as they enjoyed local wine in the cosy chalet-style restaurant, with Macron offering gifts including berets and a Tour de France yellow jersey.

- 'Flagrant' NATO bombing -

Europe is concerned that while officially neutral over the Ukraine conflict, Beijing is essentially backing Russia, which is using Chinese machine tools for weapons production.

After a bilateral meeting with Xi, Macron welcomed China's "commitments" not to supply arms to Russia, while also expressing concern over possible deliveries of dual-use technology.

He thanked Xi for backing his idea of a truce in all conflicts, including Ukraine, during the Paris Olympics this summer and pointedly added that France was not seeking "regime change" in Russia.

Xi -- who is due to host Russian President Vladimir Putin in China later this month -- warned against using the Ukraine crisis "to cast blame, smear a third country and incite a new Cold War".

Writing in Serbian daily Politika ahead of arriving in Belgrade, Xi criticised NATO for its "flagrant" bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia in 1999, warning Beijing would "never allow such tragic history to repeat itself".

China has poured billions into Serbia and neighbouring Balkan countries, and last year Beijing and Belgrade signed a free trade agreement.

Serbian finance minister Sinisa Mali told the RTS broadcaster that talks on Wednesday would centre on "a great project".

"We are aiming to attract a major investment from China in a very promising area," he said on Tuesday, adding that "I won't reveal our cards at this moment."

- 'Flooding European market' -

Both Macron and von der Leyen made trade a priority in the talks in Paris -- underscoring that Europe must defend its "strategic interests" in its economic relations with China amid fears of a trade war.

Von der Leyen said there were "imbalances that remain significant" and "a matter of great concern", singling out Chinese subsidies for electric cars and steel that were "flooding the European market".

Rights groups and political opponents have railed at the red-carpet welcome for Xi.

They accuse Macron of turning a blind eye to abuses by Beijing, including repression of the Uyghur minority while placing too much emphasis on his counterpart's pledges.

The visit has also coincided with intensified concerns about alleged Chinese hacking attacks -- denied by Beijing -- against lawmakers and officials in European countries including France, Germany and Britain.

bur-sjw/rox/bc