The French leader, whose decision to ram much-disputed pension legislation through parliament earlier this month sparked clashes and violence in French cities, is trying to keep his busy diplomatic schedule on track.
But the chaotic scenes of burning piles of rubbish in Paris, which were broadcast around the world, have already forced Macron to cancel a state visit by Britain’s King Charles, an embarrassment which did not go unnoticed in diplomatic circles.
“It’s a very prestigious thing to host the first visit abroad of the King of England, it doesn’t happen every day. If you can’t pull it off, it’s a problem,” the ambassador of a European country told Reuters.
“It’s clear it is weakening him,” another EU diplomat said. “It’s hard to measure the impact, but there is one.”
The protests, which will see unions stage an 11th nationwide strike during Macron’s time in Beijing, come as the French president is trying to regain the initiative on the war in Ukraine and play a leadership role in Europe.
That hasn’t escaped Chinese observers.
“The protests bring a large amount of risk and France needs a diplomatic highlight, especially since it wants to play the role of Europe’s leader,” said Wang Yiwei, director of the Centre for European Studies at Renmin University in China.
Macron will also need to keep in mind China’s tactic of playing divide and rule, said a non-Western diplomat who suggested China may try to use the trip to place a wedge in the Western camp and lure France away from the United States.
For his part, Macron wants to send a clear warning to his counterpart Xi Jinping, who was hosted at the Kremlin by Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month, that Europe will not accept China providing arms to Russia, now a year into its invasion of Ukraine.
“Our message will be clear: There may be a temptation to get closer to Russia, but do not cross that line,” a senior French diplomat said.