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Dragon Balls and Dinosaurs at Elysée Palace: Japan and China's Astonishing Gifts to Emmanuel Macron

Macron welcomed China's leader to Elysée Palace with an exchange of Olympic torches and precious gifts, but is he deceiving himself that this can influence Xi?



French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend the sixth meeting of the Franco-Chinese Business Council at the Marigny Theater in Paris, France, May 6, 2024. (@Mohammed Badra/Pool via Reuters)

Visitors fortunate enough to enter the Elysée Palace in Paris are often overwhelmed by its lavish golden interior and priceless paintings. 

The palace has been the official residence of France's presidents for more than 130 years. It holds many treasures, including a cellar stocked with grand cru wines.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron before their meeting onMay 2 at the presidential palace in Paris (@Kyodo)

This month, unusual items were brought to Paris by the leaders of Japan and China. These gifts reveal much about the intriguing set of relationships between France and the nations of East Asia.

Dragon Ball character kokeshi dolls presented by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal on May 2. (Provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Dragon Ball Goblets

On May 2nd, Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida presented French Prime President Emmanuel Macron with a set of goblets, known as Edo-kiriko glasses. He also presented a set of Dragon Ball character kokeshi dolls to French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal.

These were chosen to emphasize the fun, creative side of Japan. They show characters from the manga series "Dragon Ball" striking action poses.

Mr Macron smiled when he saw the images of Goku, Gohan, and Piccolo. He is known to be an admirer of Dragon Ball's creator Akira Toriyama, who died in March. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping lays out gifts for French President Emmanuel Macron on the table, as their wives look on. The two nations exchanged gifts during the Chinese president's two-day state visit. At The Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, France, May 6, 2024. (@Ludovic Marin/Pool via Reuters)

Chinese Dinosaur

Xi Jinping also arrived at the palace, on May 6th, laden with remarkable gifts.

When officials carefully unpacked a glass case they discovered what they initially assumed to be a rare stuffed bird. However, as Mr Xi later explained, it was actually something more exotic. The box contained a detailed model of a feathered dinosaur, known as an anchiornis. The creature lived in China during the prehistoric era.

In his speeches and writing, Mr Xi likes to give the impression that there is a continuity between ancient China and the present day. Is it therefore reasonable to wonder if this gift was selected because it implies that Chinese dinosaurs - which had four wings - were more advanced than ancient creatures in other lands? 

Mr Xi also brought a volume of French literary classics, translated into Mandarin. Could this have been meant to burnish his credentials as a man of culture?


Xi likes to tell other world leaders that he is well-read. Critics whisper that this may be a pretentious cover for his somewhat basic education.  

Nevertheless, the French president looked pleased with the gift and, in return, gave his guest rare books by Victor Hugo and a French-Chinese dictionary.

Another present from Mr Marcon seemed to carry a more direct political message: two very nice bottles of cognac. Connoisseurs would surely enjoy a Hennessy XO and a prized Louis XIII by Remy Martin.

French President Emmanuel Macron, Chinese President Xi Jinping and delegates attend a working session at the Elysee Palace on May 6, 2024. (@Thibault Camus/Pool via Reuters)

Talking Trade

Yet to the annoyance of cognac producers, brandy has become embroiled in a trade dispute between the European Union and China.

It started because the Chinese government is subsidizing the production of cheap electric vehicles. Then it is exporting these in large quantities to Europe, to the annoyance of the auto industry.

When the EU launched a probe into the matter, the Chinese responded by raising tariffs on European brandy. This may seem like an unrelated issue. However, trade disputes between China, the EU, and the United States tend to spill over to many industries. 

The matter was discussed between Macron, Xi, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen in Paris. Ms von der Leyen encourages companies to consider reducing their dependency on China as part of the process of de-risking.

Mr Macron takes a pragmatic approach. He is mindful that exports help shrink France's trade deficit and sustain many jobs. The president also seeks to pursue a foreign policy that is independent of the United States, echoing the stance of former French President Charles de Gaulle. 

This pleases Xi Jinping who told Mr Macron that their countries "should uphold independence and jointly prevent a new cold war or bloc confrontation," according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.


Mr Xi also urged efforts toward a multipolar world. That is another idea that is designed to undermine Washington's influence.

French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte welcome China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at the Elysee Palace in Paris as part of a two-day state visit to France. May 6, 2024. (@Reuters/Sarah Meyssonnier)

Olympic Hopes

France is preparing to host the Paris Olympics and Paralympics this summer. When Prime Minister Kishida was in Paris, he expressed his hope for beneficial exchanges between Japan and France throughout the games and at the 2025 Osaka, Kansai Expo.

China will send a high-level delegation to France to participate in the Olympics. This time, its goal is to generate positive media coverage.

In anticipation, Emmanual Macron invited Xi Jinping to participate in a short Olympics ceremony inside the Elysée Palace. Xi presented Macron with torches from the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics and 2022 Winter Olympics. In return, Macron gave his visitor a torch representing the forthcoming Paris Games. 

A Truce in Ukraine

The talks in Paris touched on the war in Ukraine. Mr Macron has suggested that there should be a truce between the armies during the Olympics. Mr Xi said that he supports this idea.

China and Russia enjoy what Xi has called a "no-limits partnership."

This enables China to supply Russia with vital consumer goods and key technologies for the battlefield.

President Macron welcomed an apparent commitment to strictly control sales of products and technologies that can be used for both civilian and military purposes. However, Xi made no mention of this important point at the joint press conference. 

"China's support for Russia is harmful to its relationship with EU nations but Beijing will not change its approach," according to Charles Parton, OBE, a Distinguished Fellow in Indo-Pacific Geopolitics at the Council on Geostrategy.


"The Chinese are likely to continue their exports and hide behind the claim that they are not being used on the battlefield. Many foreign leaders believe they have an ability to influence Xi but they deceive themselves. Xi Jinping plays a game rigorously based on the CCP's and the PRC's interests," says Mr Parton. 


Author: Duncan Bartlett, Diplomatic Correspondent
Mr Bartlett is the Diplomatic Correspondent for JAPAN Forward and a Research Associate at the SOAS China Institute. Read his other articles and essays.