MONACO (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping has found one country in Europe that isn’t worried about China’s growing global clout or its ambitions to dominate the future of technology: Monaco.
Xi visited the tiny Mediterranean principality Sunday as part of a European tour that is clouded by mixed feelings about how to engage with China and benefit from its trade — while setting limits on its appetite for greater economic and diplomatic influence.
Xi’s appearance alongside Monaco’s Prince Albert and Princess Charlene marked the first state visit by a Chinese president to the principality. The palace said Monaco is interested in increased trade and economic cooperation with China and “boosting China’s image in the principality.”
Monaco last year clinched a deal with Chinese tech company Huawei to develop its 5G telecommunications network — a thorny issue for several European countries.
The U.S. government says Huawei’s 5G network could give Chinese security services a backdoor to spy on consumers, and has pressed European partners to shun it. Huawei says the fear is unfounded.
Monaco imposed exceptional security for the Chinese visitors: The entire “Rocher” — the nickname for the cliff that Monaco is perched on — was effectively shut down for the day.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen this … stores closed, windows shuttered, no one in the street,” said Marc Bonafede, owner of Le Castelroc restaurant in front of the palace. He said he hadn’t seen such heavy security even when Albert buried his father, Prince Rainier, or held his royal wedding to Charlene.
Monaco banned all flights in its airspace during Xi’s brief visit and any sailing in its waters or mooring in its luxury yacht-filled harbor.
The nearby French city of Nice, where Xi is spending the night, was similarly cordoned off. The Promenade des Anglais — the palm-lined beachside avenue that is the city’s premier attraction — was closed to traffic all weekend. The promenade was targeted by a deadly extremist attack in 2016.
Outside the French resort town of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, where Xi was dining Sunday night with French President Emmanuel Macron, a police boat patrolled throughout the day, and police divers worked to secure the area.
Xi will sign energy and other contracts with Macron on Monday, then meet in Paris on Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
The European Union is China’s biggest trading partner, but many in Europe worry about unfair competition from Chinese companies that benefit from government financial backing.
Xi comes to Monaco and France from Italy, which just endorsed a vast Chinese transport infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative. Macron criticized Italy’s move, calling for a concerted European approach to China instead.
“There is this bad European habit to have 28 different policies, with countries competing against each other to attract investment,” a top French official said. “We need to speak with a common voice if we want to exist. We have the same approach on the 5G issue: avoiding 28 different decisions.”
France hasn’t decided yet whether to let Huawei build its 5G networks but it’s likely to be a subject of discussions during the Chinese leader’s visit.
Europe wants to increase trade with China but on European terms, especially amid U.S.-China trade tensions. France also wants China’s cooperation on climate diplomacy, in the face of U.S. President Donald Trump’s skepticism.
Human rights concerns in China seem a lesser concern now than when Chinese leaders visited Europe in the past, though Macron’s office says the French leader will raise concerns about China’s repression of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.
The U.S. State Department says China has “significantly intensified” a campaign of mass detentions of minority Uighurs over the last year, with between 800,000 and 2 million people interned in camps that have drawn condemnation from across the world.
Charlton reported from Paris. Claude Paris in Beaulieu-sur-Mer contributed.
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