Global Times: Xi’s Footsteps: Xi’s Europe trip carries forward friendship, charts the course for the future

BEIJING, May 14, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — Five days and six nights, three countries and four cities, over 30 bilateral or multilateral activities… these figures encapsulate Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Europe, the first of its kind in five years.

Chinese national flags adorned the cities, with crowds eagerly welcoming President Xi. The Global Times reporters observed these details during the visit, highlighting the anticipation in the continent to strengthen friendship and cooperation between China and the three countries of France, Serbia, and Hungary. People across the continent hoped that the visit would pave the way for stronger ties between China and the three countries, as well as with Europe as a whole.

During a press conference, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated that President Xi’s recent state visits have solidified China’s relations with the three European countries and relaunched China-EU cooperation.

Wang, also a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, described Xi’s Europe trip as a journey to carry forward friendship, enhance mutual trust, boost confidence and chart the course for the future.

Personal touch

French President Emmanuel Macron invited Xi to meet at the Pyrenees Mountains, a mountainous area in southern France which is close to the home of Macron’s maternal grandmother.

It seems that it has become a routine that the two heads of state treat each other with something beyond the courtesy of a normal state visit. In March 2019, in the French city of Nice, Macron received Xi at Villa Kerylos, a century-old house overlooking the Mediterranean. Later that year, President Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan met with Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron in the Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai.

In April 2023 when the Chinese and French top leaders met for informal talks in Guangzhou, the capital of South China’s Guangdong Province, they listened to the guqin (Chinese zither) melody “High Mountain and Flowing Water” at Baiyun Hall.

This year, on a cold snowy spring day, the two leaders continued to write the story of “High Mountain and Flowing Water,” showing the world that despite China and France being an Eastern power and a Western power respectively, they can still cooperate on bilateral, regional and world affairs.

A local resident from a town near the Pyrenees is no stranger to China. He told the Global Times that his niece used to study in Shanghai and now works at a multinational company that has many businesses in China. A cyclist at the Pyrenees Mountains, who cannot speak English very well, said “friendship” when asked about the meeting between Xi and Macron at the mountain.

Xi’s visit coincided with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France. Thanks to former French president general Charles de Gaulle’s grand vision and his advocacy for French autonomy, he made this bold decision 60 years ago, making France the first Western country to establish official ties with China.

In 2014, when Xi visited France, he went to the Charles de Gaulle Foundation. This time, the Global Times paid a visit there and had director of the foundation to recall Xi’s visit 10 years ago and what prompted general de Gaulle to make the decision.

“President Xi laid a wreath in honor of General de Gaulle in the office where he worked from 1947 to 1958. Gifts were exchanged,” Antoine Broussy, director of the foundation, told the Global Times, and showed a guest book on which President Xi wrote: “Paying Tribute to the Great Man and Composing a New Chapter in Chinese and French History.”

In a showroom on the ground floor of the Charles de Gaulle Foundation, a bronze half-body statue of de Gaulle stands. He looks contemplative, apparently observing the historical trajectory of ChinaFrance relations.

Steel-clad friends

During his stay in Serbia, a country Xi visited eight years ago, the Chinese president presented a special gift to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic – steel models in the shape of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, and the Church of Saint Sava in Belgrade.

The models were made from steel produced by the HBIS Smederevo steel plant, or Hesteel Serbia, a century-old factory which was invigorated through close cooperation between China and Serbia.

Xi visited the plant in June 2016, months after China’s Hesteel Group purchased this venture on the verge of closure and the future of its more than 5,000 employees was unsettled.

Xi interacted with the workers and encouraged them to work hard to bring benefits to local residents. Factory workers presented a round plate with the silhouette of the steel plant to Xi as a gift.

The visit significantly boosted the morale of all the workers, and encouraged the Chinese executive team to optimize production and management. Smiles returned to the faces of Serbian workers as they felt secure and began to “plan for the future.”

Hesteel Serbia now has become a major exporter in the Balkan country and a crucial taxpayer. Its success is an embodiment of the “ironclad” friendship between China and Serbia. 

Before his state visit this time, Xi replied to a letter written by Serbian steelworkers who shared the progress the steel plant had achieved and expressed their appreciation for Xi’s care and support.

When presenting the steel models to Vucic on Wednesday, Xi said we are now “steel-clad friends with even stronger ties than iron-clad friends.”

Now standing on the site is the China Cultural Center, for which Xi laid the foundation stone in 2016. This site has now gained a new life while retaining the sentiment of friendship.

Carefully decorated with Chinese elements, the center offers courses on Chinese, calligraphy, Tai Chi, and guzheng, a traditional musical instrument. The center also holds a library which has a collection ranging from language learning materials and dictionaries, to popular novels and classics.

Various cultural events are held here, and the center issues commemorative stamps with Serbian Post biannually, the Global Times learned from the center.

Many locals also come to the center for classes out of interest, gain better knowledge of China and Chinese culture.

Milica Milovic, the first Serbian employee at the center, told the Global Times that working at the center is really a pride as she is now part of the strong China-Serbia friendship.

This ironclad friendship has become deeper and deeper through efforts of every ordinary Chinese and Serbian who are contributing to bilateral exchanges and friendliness.

A East-West model

Upon President Xi’s arrival in Budapest, the final stop on his five-day European visit, Chinese national flags were placed next to Hungarian flags on the Elisabeth Bridge in this beautiful capital.

Xi previously visited Hungary in 2009. Some things have changed, while some have not. The Danube River still flows silently and gently, witnessing the development of relations between China and Hungary. During Xi’s visit this time, the two countries elevated bilateral relations to an all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership for the new era.

What deeply impressed President Xi during his state visit to Hungary, he said, was a Hungarian girl who presented flowers to him when he landed in Budapest. She was the same girl who presented flowers to Xi 15 years ago. The president recollected that encounter: “You’ve grown up. You were only this tall back then,” he said, making a gesture with his hand.

The girl can speak fluent Chinese. So can many young Hungarians, who have cultivated a strong interest in China and the Chinese language as exchanges between China and Hungary have flourished over the last couple of years. In Buda Castle, the historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian Kings, nearly half of the tourists come from China, and they have a tourist guide who can speak Chinese very well.

Many Hungarians who speak fluent Chinese learned the language at the Hungarian-Chinese bilingual school in Budapest. Established in 2004, the Hungarian-Chinese bilingual school is a 12-year all-through public school that teaches in both Chinese and Hungarian.

In October 2009, Xi, then Chinese vice president, visited the school during his visit to Hungary. Today, a group photo of Xi and the school’s students and teachers, as well as Xi’s reply letter to the students in early 2023, hangs on the wall in the school’s hallway.

Xin Hua, director and chair professor of the Center for European Union Studies, Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times that an important reason that China and Hungary can develop friendly ties is that the two countries have similar historical and cultural traditions.

“Welcome home!” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban greeted Xi at the airport. The next day, Xi was received with a military ceremony in the Lion Courtyard of Buda Castle.

In an interview with Chinese media, Hungarian Prime Minister Orban explained what “home” means.

“We are settled here in the West, but the origin is very important. So, we know that relatives are somewhere, they are far away. So, when somebody from the East is coming to Hungary, especially with the high civilization for several thousands of years as China, it always has a special emotional element of that meeting,” Orban said.



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