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French PM Cazeneuve visits China as Trump's protectionism worries Beijing

media Chinese President Xi Jinping has joined EU leaders in criticising Donald Trump's protectionism Reuters/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve was to start a three-day visit to China on Monday as France head for a presidential election and Beijing takes stock of Donald Trump's victory in the US.

China had been making overtures to France and the European Union even before Trump angered Beijing by appearing to question the United States' One China policy.

Trump's protectionist economic policies also worry Beijing and President Xi Jinping has joined European leaders in defending free trade.

The US and the European Union are China's two main trading partners.

French presidential election

But China-France expert Alice Ekman says that, beyond diplomatic and economic ties, China is particularly interested in this year's French presidential election and will use Cazeneuve’s visit to gather information:

“China is following very closely the presidential election campaign in France," says Ekman, who is head of China research at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri). "Chinese delegation have already visited, formally or informally, to try to follow the latest developments, including the results of primary elections, popular expectations and the potential chance of this or that candidate to win.”

Beijing has expressed no preference for any presidential candidate.

"This is a different approach from Russia," Ekman comments. "But clearly the result of the election is very important for China, given the weight of France in key international institutions, given the importance for China-France economic relations, and the weight of France in the EU as a whole."

Nuclear power and cars

Cazeneuve was to meet Xi on Wednesday, having met his number two Li Keqiang on Tuesday.

With two power stations built by France's EDF and its Chinese partner CGN and operated by France's Areva due to start work at the end of the year, nuclear power will be discussed.

Cazeneuve will also visit Wuhan in central China, an industrial city where French carmakers PSA and Renault have factories.

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