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Report: Xi invites European leaders to China – should they go?

Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, walks with French President Emmanuel Macron as they review the honour guard during a welcome ceremony on January 9, 2018 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. (Ludovic Marin/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)
July 18, 2022

The Chinese government has invited the leaders of major European countries, including Germany, France and Italy to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, likely in November.

On Monday, the South China Morning Post reported based on a source familiar with the matter that the Chinese government sent meeting invitations to French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. It is unclear when these invitations were sent out and it remains to be seen whether any of the European leaders will accept Xi’s invitation.

The exact meeting date is unclear, but it is expected to take place in November, shortly after the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) holds its 20th Party Conference.

The decision as to whether or not to accept Xi’s invitation has reportedly become the topic of a “heated debate” in Macron’s administration.

Relations between Europe and China have grown increasingly strained, especially among countries that are closely allied with the U.S. In June the European Parliament adopted a resolution declaring China’s treatment of its ethnic minority Uyghur population amounts to “crimes against humanity” and poses a “serious risk of genocide.” Later in June, Germany, France, Spain and Italy joined 43 other United Nations Human Rights Council members in condemning the human rights situation in China.

The invitation to meet with Xi after the 20th Party Conference is of particular concern amid a recent report from the Hong Kong publication Ming Pao that the CCP will appoint Xi as “renmin lingxiu” or “People’s Leader” during the legislative meeting. The move could signify a shift that will allow Xi to retain power in China for the long term. According to Newsweek, a source for Ming Pao said the CCP had already revised its power structure “to pave the way for Xi Jinping’s long-term rule.”

One European source told the South China Morning Post that European leaders see Xi’s invitation as “something like a coronation ceremony, where the leaders of the world come to pay tribute to Xi the third” – a reference to Napoleon III who gained power in France by legal means but then retained power through a coup and made himself an emperor.

Despite their misgivings about accepting the invitation, the European source told the South China Morning Post, “It is difficult to say no to China, especially to Xi.”

The European leaders may wait until after the 20th Party Congress before they decide whether or not they will accept Xi’s invitation.