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May 21, 2018

Macron begins China state visit at Silk Road gateway

Macron begins China state visit at Silk Road gateway
'French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte visit the famous terracotta warriors in Xian at the start of his first state visit to China' - By: POOL/AFP ludovic MARIN

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday launched a state visit to China in Xian -- the starting point of the ancient Silk Road -- in a nod to his counterpart's scheme to revive the famous trading route.

Macron will visit the northern city's famous terracotta warriors along with his wife Brigitte before delivering a keynote speech on the future of Franco-Chinese relations.

The 8,000-man clay army, crafted around 250 BC for the tomb of China's first emperor Qin Shihuang, is a symbol of ancient Chinese artistic and military sophistication in a country that proclaims itself a 5,000-year-old civilisation.

Macron is beginning the three-day visit in Xian as a gesture to Chinese President Xi Jinping's colossal New Silk Road project, an ambitious initiative to connect Asia and Europe by road, rail and sea.

The $1 trillion infrastructure programme is billed as a modern revival of the ancient Silk Road that once carried fabric, spices, and a wealth of other goods in both directions.

Known in China as "One Belt One Road", the plan is to see gleaming new road and rail networks built through Central Asia and beyond, and new maritime routes stretching through the Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

The project has elicited both interest and anxiety and France has so far been cautious on it. Observers say China is waiting for Macron to outline his views on the scheme, in his emerging role as a European leadership voice.

Macron's first official visit to Asia marks a new stage for his diplomacy, which has so far been concentrated on Europe and Africa.

He plans to seek a "strategic partnership" with Beijing on issues including terrorism and climate change, and make Xi an ally in implementing the Paris accord to fight climate change after the US pulled out of the deal.

After Xian, Macron will travel on to Beijing along with his delegation which takes in some 60 business executives and institutions.

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