Associated Press

French President Emmanuel Macron appealed to Chinese leaders Monday to form a partnership on climate change and African development during a visit in which he also is expected to press Beijing for better market access.

In a speech in the western city of Xi’an on the first day of an official visit, Macron said he would propose to his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, a joint “year of ecological transition” to mobilize their governments and companies.

Macron, on his first visit to China since being elected last year, was due to meet Xi and other Chinese leaders for talks Tuesday and Wednesday that his government said also would include issues such as North Korea, the fight against terror financing and climate change.

“Tomorrow, I will ask President Xi to take a new step in our French-Chinese relationship, to engage in a climate battle,” said Macron. “I propose to President Xi a French-Chinese year of ecological transition in 2018-2019 to mobilize our companies, our start-ups, our cities, our regions, to show the world that we, French and Chinese, are capable of making our planet great and beautiful again.”

Macron, traveling with a French business delegation, wants to secure deals during his visit that Paris hopes will give France the same access to Chinese markets as its companies receive abroad.

European leaders increasingly are pressing China, the most closed major economy, for such reciprocity in response to frustration among labor unions and business groups about mounting Chinese competition.

The two governments are expected to announce a Franco-Chinese investment fund of more than 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion).

China is France’s biggest Asian trading partner but the French side reported a 30 billion euro ($36 billion) trade deficit last year.

Macron said France could help, especially in Africa, with the Chinese-led initiative to build a “new Silk Road” of railways, ports and other infrastructure across Asia and Europe.

“France has the experience of unilateral imperialism in Africa, which sometimes led to the worst,” he said. “And today, with the new Silk Road being created, I think that the partnership between France and China can avoid repeating these mistakes.”

The French Development Agency and the state-run China Development Bank are due to sign a cooperation agreement for co-financing of projects to fight climate change in Africa.

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