French President Emmanuel Macron, who once described himself as a "Maoist", will embark on his three-day trip to the very land that nourished Maoism on Monday, with bilateral trade, climate change and the Korean Peninsula situation expected to be on the agenda.
For Beijing, this visit will be the first by a major European leader since China successfully held the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) last autumn. For Macron, it will be the young leader's first visit to Asia since he took office last May, as he has yet to forge a clear policy in the region.
The 19th CPC National Congress took place in October and advanced the major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics became the main goal of China's diplomacy.
"To welcome the young leader's first state visit to China represents the beginning of China's efforts to pursue the major-country diplomacy," commented Shen Xiaoquan, an international studies researcher.
Meanwhile, Macron has moved into a void created by Britain's Brexit retreat and the weakening of Angela Merkel in Germany, and US isolationism under Donald Trump, to play an increasingly active role on the global stage, which is expected to accelerate this year with trips to Iran and Asia, including the upcoming state visit to China.
Macron: Fan of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping
Though just elected as the French leader last May, Macron is well known in China - not only for his age and his romance with his teacher who is 24 years older than him, but also for his keen interest in modern Chinese history especially in two of China's most influential leaders: Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
In an interview with French local media, Macron said: "I am a Maoist [Je suis Maoiste]." He went on to elaborated that for Mao, "a good program is what works [un bon programme c'est ce qui marche]."
During his campaign, Macron used anecdotes and references from Chinese history several times. And once he invoked Deng's saying, "It doesn't matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice," in response to a question on French commercial radio network RTL about how the then-candidate saw the left and right divide in France.
And he even referred to the intense presidential campaign and endless opinion polls as a "long march" – a long and daring military maneuver by China's Red Army, which laid the foundation for the eventual victory of the CPC.
There are comments that Macron appreciates China very much, and some trails can be seen in the young leader's book "Revolution" published last November. In the book he spoke highly of Chain'[s economic development and wrote that "Chinese leaders have never forgotten the fact that France was the first major Western power to establish full diplomatic ties with China." (In 1973, Georges Pompidou became the first Western head of state to visit Beijing.)
Overview of previous high-level bilateral visits and economic ties
France is the first Western country to have held a strategic dialogue and built a comprehensive partnership with China. Their ties have been solidified by an intense series of high-level visits.
Chinese President Xi Jinping met Macron for the first time during the Hamburg G20 Summit in July, where they both agreed to promote bilateral relations and cooperation. Xi made a state visit to France in 2014 and an official visit in 2015 for the Paris Climate Conference.
On the French side, former French President Francois Hollande made two state visits to China, in April 2013 and November 2015. Hollande also attended the G20 Hangzhou Summit in September 2016 and met with Xi on the sidelines of the event.