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Economy

Xi flexes China's economic muscles in Europe

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Obama, right, and Xi, with their game faces on.   © Kyodo

PARIS -- Barack Obama and Xi Jinping are both on the road in Europe but pursuing different ends. America's president is trying to rally support for isolating a defiant Russia, while his Chinese counterpart is using economic clout to advance longer-term interests.

     Obama began a week of diplomacy at the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands on Monday. Calling Russia's grab of Crimea an affront to international order, Obama succeeded in bringing America's European partners into agreement on additional sanctions.

     Meanwhile, by stressing adherence to international law on matters of sovereignty and territory, he seems to be applying indirect pressure on China as well, whose assertiveness in the seas around it is worrying neighbors.

     At a summit he brokered, Obama agreed with the leaders of Japan and South Korea to expand joint military exercises and missile defense cooperation. Their bogey is North Korea, but China looms large in the background.

     For its part, China claims to be neutral on the Ukrainian situation. On his tour of Europe, Xi has been playing a long game of building Chinese influence through economic diplomacy.

     After his summit with French President Francois Hollande here Wednesday, ministers and corporate leaders from both countries signed a flurry of contracts worth 18 billion euros ($24.8 billion) in all. Among them were a tie-up between China's Dongfeng Motor and PSA Peugeot Citroen, an order for 70 Airbus jetliners, and a nuclear cooperation deal.

     They will lead to jobs and economic growth, Hollande told a joint news conference. Staying focused on France's struggling economy, he avoided Tibet or other uncomfortable topics for China in his talks with Xi. The Chinese president responded in kind, looking ahead to "a new era featuring a close and lasting comprehensive strategic partnership."

     Europe fears being shut out of the Chinese market, with its 1.3 billion consumers. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who riled Beijing before by meeting with the Dalai Lama, has been trying to stay in its good books recently. So has German Chancellor Angela Merkel. China's growing economic presence in her country can be seen in the many Chinese acquisitions of small and midsize German manufacturers.

     The contrasting approaches that Obama and Xi are showing in Europe look likely to play out around the world.

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