France's Macron in China to launch new era of partnership

Issam Laaroussi China Plus Published: 2018-01-10 14:45:47
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By Dr Mohammed Issam Laaroussi

What are the strategic dimensions of French president`s visit to China? Can we agree that France is looking for new routes of partnership with the second world power? Particularly the US international agenda seems to be ambiguous and heterogeneous related to several international concerns.  Chinese President Xi Jinping is a key interlocutor with whom Emmanuel Macron will have to dialogue. Especially after the Chinese leader stature has been strengthened since the 19th Communist Party of China congress in October 2017.

Beijing needs allies, and France is well placed to fill the vacuum left by other superpowers. For instance, United States exert its own unilateral agenda, Great Britain is no longer China`s main interlocutor in Europe. Finally, Germany appears to be struggling to form a coalition government. Based on the realpolitik view, Beijing sees Emmanuel Macron as an ideal partner to support its leading role, whether in the fight against global warming or in the North Korean crisis, where France could be a convenient mediator. Although China considers Germany an economic partner, France is considered a defense and diplomatic partner.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) holds a welcome ceremony for visiting French President Emmanuel Macron before their talks in Beijing, capital of China, Jan. 9, 2018.[Photo: Xinhua]

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) holds a welcome ceremony for visiting French President Emmanuel Macron before their talks in Beijing, capital of China, Jan. 9, 2018.[Photo: Xinhua]

Macron`s visit in China is thus the first of a European leader. The French president, who wants to establish a personal relationship with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, strives to strengthen the France role as the European leader on the international scene filling the gap of the Brexit misunderstanding after the British withdrawal from the EU and the unpredictability of the US to establish a strong relationship with China due to Donald Trump`s failure to build trustful relations with it.

France emerges as a key Chinese partner in Europe following Britain’s decision to abandon the European Union.  Paris is expecting China to act as “a counterweight” to increasingly uncertain trade relations with the U.S. and the U.K. after Brexit. The French president is hoping to gain more access for French companies to Chinese markets. The bilateral trade relations remain the dominate drive of French policy. Emmanuel Macron, and more than fifty company directors, including those of AccorHotels, LVMH, Airbus, Areva, Safran, BNP Paribas or Safran, hopes to announce in Beijing about fifty agreements and contracts. Paris could conclude sales of Airbus and Safran engines, a radioactive waste reprocessing plant or retirement homes. France also wants more open access for its agricultural exports or banking networks.

Economically, Macron expresses his willingness to take part in China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, offering support for Xi’s plans to revive land and sea trade routes connecting Asia and Europe via massive infrastructure projects. The US $1 trillion Belt and Road infrastructure program is allocated as a modern revival of the ancient Silk Road that once carried fabrics, spices and a wealth of other goods in both directions. The project has prompted both interest and anxiety in many countries, with some in Europe sees it as an example of Chinese expansionism. 

From the strategic level, Macron official travel in China is observed as the most complicated mission, in terms of the key major changes occurs in the international order characterized mainly by the escalation of populism and radical tendencies in the modern world. Furthermore, France is about investing his own foreign policy priorities out of the American political options. Since his inauguration last May 2017, Macron has advocated the Europe Union, saying the bloc must end its “naive” approach. In France as in the EU, making the trade relationship with China more balanced and fair would help to slight defects. In Macron’s case, that deficit amounts to some 30 billion euros ($36 billion), France’s largest bilateral trade shortfall. However, Beijing sees new European trade and investment rules supported by France as discriminatory by Chinese businesses.

Emmanuel Macron's visit in china is also aimed at forming an alliance on international issues with Beijing. As a nuclear powers and veto-wielding permanent members of the United Nations security council, France and China have much to talk about including Syria, the Israel-Palestine conflict, North Korea and climate change. The crisis with North Korea should be addressed. China`s inclusive peace settlement approach suggested that the United States and North Korea should end their military maneuver and trials, in return, opening up mutual dialogue to fix up the crisis, however France did not support this proposal. on a strategic level, Emmanuel Macron hopes in particular to obtain the support of Beijing to address Syria`s war and the G5 Sahel military force, after that of Washington. 

One of the key issues of on the China`s-France partnership agenda is battling global warming. China, the world's leading polluter but also the largest investor in clean energy. China has played a key role since the US decided to leave the Paris agreement. The French president hopes to obtain a strategic ecological partnership with China, which emitted no less than 11 billion tons of CO2 in 2015.

France and China aim to strengthen cooperation, defend and advance multilateralism, build an open world economy, improve global governance, jointly cope with global challenges and build a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind.

(Dr. Mohammed ISSAM LAAROUSSI is a professor of international relations based in United Arab Emirates)

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