Macrons China Visit: The Vision of Sovereign Europe

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Attribution: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street, Creative Commons

Elisabeth Hellenbroich

During his state visit (April 7-9) in China French President Emanuel Macron was received cordially by the Chinese President Xi Jinping and some of his ministers. A small part of his visit was reserved for a „tripartite dialogue” between Xi Jinping, Emanuel Macron and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in order to discuss the future parameters of the EU /China cooperation. It is noteworthy that a few days before Macron travelled with von der Leyen to China, von der Leyen had given a speech in the European Parliament, where she outlined in a harsh tone the parameters of the EU China policy. She openly warned that China should not violate Taiwan’s security, while qualifying China as a „systemic rival“ – and called for a „de- risking“  approach in Chinese /EU economic relations. Her speech didn‘t please at all the Chinese government and stood in contrast to what French President Macron outlined during his three day state visit there.

In a sense it is not only puzzling that von der Leyen showed up in China, knowing about the rejection of her policy line; it is even more „puzzling“ that German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who arrived in China several days after Macron had left,  in order to meet the Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, had before arriving there  a telephone conversation with von der Leyen. She seems to have closely coordinated her policy with the EU commission president, basically reiterating the German strategy of „de- risking“ economic relations and warning to keep hands off Taiwan, while emphasizing that China should respect human rights and had the duty to intervene in the Ukraine conflict and use its influence on Russia.

On Taiwan: We should not be followers of America

On the background of all this, it is clear why Macron’s visit in China as well as an interview which he gave on his way back from China to the magazines Politico and Les Echos, created so much outrage in German media as well as on the side of some German politicians. Macron had essentially stated that in respect to solving the Ukraine issue, the aim of his dialogue with China was to „consolidate a common approach and to support the principles of the UN Charter, as well as have a clear stance on the nuclear question and that it‘s up to China to tell Putin that some steps of Russia (deployment of nuclear arms in White Russia) is inconsistent with what Russia had pledged before.  „We showed China that we are united”, he said in reference to the tripartite meeting with von der Leyen. He added that the „Chinese are also preoccupied concerning their unity and Taiwan. It‘s important to see how they think. The question for us Europeans is: Do we have interest to accelerate the Taiwan issue? No ! Worse is to think that we Europeans should be followers on this subject and adapt to the American and to an overreaction from China – Why should we go along the rhythm chosen by the others?  We should we pose ourselves the question concerning ‘our interests’. (…) The great risk Europe is facing is that it gets ‘caught up’ in crises that are not ours, which prevents us from building strategic autonomy, (…) The Paradox would be that, ‘overcome with panic’ , we believe we are just America’s followers.“

He further spoke about the danger that Europe could be hit by “crises” that would be not ours and he warned in light of those crisis that (…) „we will not have the means to finance our autonomous strategy and will become ‘vassals’ (sic) when we could be the ‘third pole.’(…) The paradox is that when we begin a true autonomous (European) strategy we will not follow American politics out of a ‘panic reflex’. We should not depend on the ‘extraterritoriality’ of the dollar.”

French-Chinese Partnership since De Gaulle 1964

In a common press conference between Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the latter outlined that both nations had agreed to „deepen their mutual friendship“. That as members of the UN Security Council, both nations are looking for a „new vitality“ in EU – China relations and international cooperation. Xi Jinping stressed during the press conference that common agreements had been made and praised stable relations between both countries. He emphasized that there was close partnership on arms, spatial, nuclear and especially civilian nuclear innovative technologies between the Chinese and French. And he announced that China together with France will participate in the „Forum 2024“ in France, at the occasion of which both countries will celebrate 60 years of partnership relations since these were founded in 1964 by French General De Gaulle. There will be many art exhibitions, and exchanges on a cultural level in both countries as well. Xi Jinping very much stressed the idea of „multi-polarity“ in our contemporary world. In respect to the war in Ukraine, he said that China rejects the idea of war and is „favoring dialogue.“ That it will make a „strong appeal that nuclear arms should not be used on the basis of the UN Charter and he announced that French President Macron will be invited as a speaker to the third major „Belt And Road conference“, organized by China in 2023.

A close look at the „Common government declaration of the French Republic and the People’s Republic of China“ shows some of the key sectors in which both nations will strengthen their economic, strategic scientific and cultural cooperation. The Common declaration consists of almost 40 paragraphs. In the opening paragraphs the two countries emphasize  the need to „deepen exchange on strategic questions and emphasize the „Dialogue between southern Theater of War of the PLA and the Command of the French Armed Forces in the  Asia Pacific region“, and that they will strengthen cooperation on regional and international security questions.  On the basis of France reaffirming its  commitment for the „One China” Policy: The declaration states the “desire of both states to strengthen „Multilateralism“ (…) France and China as permanent members of the UN Security Council on the basis of international law want to find constructive solutions concerning challenges and threats of international security and stability. They believe that differences and conflicts between states can only be solved peacefully by dialogue and consultations. They want to strengthen the multilateral international system under the leadership of the United Nations in a multipolar world.”

Common stand on the nuclear issue

Both also reaffirm their commitment to support the „common declaration of state and government leaders from China, France, Russia, UK and US (P5), issued on January 3rd 2022, to prevent an atomic war and prevent arms race.”  The declaration stated that „ A nuclear war cannot be won and should never be conducted.“ They also confirm their intention „to coordinate and cooperate so as to guarantee the authority and efficiency of the arms control and non-proliferation regime and push ahead the international arms control process.  This includes the three pillars of the non -proliferation treaty of nuclear arms including nuclear disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear energy” (sic !)

Both sides also support efforts to „reestablish peace in Ukraine on the basis of Internal Law and on the principles of the United Charter.“  Both sides reject armed attacks on nuclear plants and all other peaceful nuclear installations and support the International Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) in its effort to play a constructive role in promoting the security of peaceful nuclear installation, including the guarantee for the security of the nuclear plant Saporischja.“

In terms of economic projects it is noteworthy that France and China agreed on the „acquisition of 160 Airbus planes by Chinese air companies“ as well as on the industrial cooperation  concerning a project for a new Airbus assembly line in Tianjin.

What sticks out in the common declaration is the commitment of broth France and China for the peaceful use of nuclear energy cooperation.  This in itself stands in stark contrast to Germany which in a suicidal way has just „finalized“ the complete exit from nuclear energy. The declaration also paid attention to the field of cultural and scientific exchange.  It is noteworthy that „Chinese experts“ will be working at the side of French experts in the restauration of the  Paris Cathedral „Notre Dame“.

Parallel to German Foreign Minister Baerbock’s visit in China, where she was told by the Chinese Foreign minister that “China does not need schoolmasters from the West“, given her admonitions about Chinas violations of human rights and the Taiwan issue, there was a visit by Brazilian President Lula da Silva (who was accompanied by Dilma Rousseff as chairman of the BRICS Bank for Development and Infrastructure). Lula da Silva was in a very friendly way  welcomed by Chinese President Xi Jinping. He essentially reiterated Brazil’s position that they wanted to be neutral concerning the war in Ukraine, not supporting the US strategy, while being open for a new peace deal. He also made many economic deals with China, and reiterated that in the domain of trade deals the dollar could also be replaced by other currencies like the Chinese Yuan.

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