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Leaders grow closer over places dear in memory

By Zhang Yunbi | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-09 07:08
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President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, join French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, in watching folklore dancers at Col du Tourmalet in France on Tuesday. Aurelien Morissard / AP

When he was a child, French President Emmanuel Macron had much fun staying with his grandmother at Tourmalet, a remote mountain pass in the Hautes-Pyrenees Department of southwestern France, with many media outlets describing Tourmalet as Macron's "second hometown".

On Tuesday, Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, entertained President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, at L'Etape du Berger, a restaurant in the Pyrenees mountains that Macron frequented when he was young.

The two leaders' treating each other to places of great personal memories has become "a signature dish" of the head-of-state diplomacy between China and France, which experts said marks a high level of mutual trust and maturity of the state-to-state ties.

The two couples watched a traditional folk dance performance by local villagers before the leaders and their wives had lunch at the restaurant.

"Macron's grandmother spent much time taking care of him, and that's why he values her hometown so much," said Wang Yiwei, a professor at Renmin University of China's School of International Studies and director of the university's Institute of International Affairs.

Analysts and media noted that the great hospitality in the Pyrenees was unprecedented for Macron, and that it was a reciprocal gesture for Xi having entertained Macron in April last year in Pine Garden at the Guangdong provincial governor's residence, where Xi's father, Xi Zhongxun, had resided when he held the post in the 1980s at the start of China's reform and opening-up.

At Pine Garden, Xi and Macron had tea by the water, enjoying the view and discussing the past and present without wearing neckties.

The very place for the informal meeting was chosen with great care and hospitality to create a more relaxed atmosphere so that the two leaders could "better understand those issues concerning core interests of their nations", Wang added.

Such arrangements "reflect the high degree of intimacy between the two sides", said Cui Hongjian, a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University's Academy of Regional and Global Governance.

"The informal meeting in the Pyrenees is a natural result of the development of relations between the two countries to a certain extent, which can help both leaders to explore issues in greater depth, thus better shaping and manifesting mutual understanding," Cui said.

Macron recalled his visit to China and especially the meeting at Pine Garden, which he said left him with a deep and wonderful impression.

"It is a great pleasure to receive you, President Xi Jinping, on Tourmalet pass in the Pyrenees, a place that means as much to me as when you hosted me in Guangzhou," Macron said in a social media post after the informal meeting.

"Through the sharing of our personal stories, our relationship is gradually building up," Macron wrote.

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