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France’s Macron, China’s Xi Meet After Italy Joins Silk Road Project

French President Emmanuel Macron (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in January 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed China’s Xi Jinping for dinner on March 24 ahead of their official discussions amid the French leader’s efforts to bolster European unity to help counter Beijing’s global ambitions.

"Very happy to welcome President Xi Jinping and his wife to France," Macron wrote in a tweet as the leaders met in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, in the south of the country.

"This visit will strengthen our strategic partnership and affirm the role of France, Europe, and China towards a strong multilateralism."

Xi’s visit to France comes after the Chinese leader struck a deal with Italy in which the EU country officially joined China's Belt and Road Initiative on March 23.

Italy became the first Group of Seven industrialized nation to join the initiative, but dozens of other countries, including EU members Greece, Poland, and Hungary, have joined, despite U.S. and EU objections.

The Chinese project seeks to create new rail, road, port, and energy links between China, Europe, and Africa.

The United States and many larger EU countries have criticized China's project and its lending for regional infrastructure efforts, warning that it has saddled some developing countries with debts that they cannot afford to repay.

Germany criticized Rome over its participation in the project.

"In a world with giants like China, Russia, or our partners in the United States, we can only survive if we are united as the EU," Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

"And if some countries believe that they can do clever business with the Chinese, then they will be surprised when they wake up and find themselves dependent."

Based on reporting by AFP and AP