Authors: Aaron Dignam & Sean Connolly*
At the invitation of President Xi Jinping, President of France, Emmanuel Macron, paid a state visit to China during 8-10 January, 2018.Evidently, China attaches great attention to his visit as the Chinese FM spokesman used three “firsts” to describe President Macron’s visit to China: this is the first foreign head of state China receives in the year 2018, and also the first head of state of a EU member state visiting China after China’s 19th CPC Congress. Meanwhile, this is Macron’s first state visit to China after he assumed the French Presidency.Accordingly, it is fair to say that Macron’s visit is significant for the China-France and China-Europe relations in the new era.
France has been a great power of Europe but has had extensive influence around the world. For example, the French Revolution had great impact on Chinese political and intellectual elites. Since the WWII, both China and France have been the members of the United Nations Security Council, and later entered the nuclear powers club. In light of this, China has cooperated with France on the international issues including the Korean peninsula. In 2017, President Xi reiterated over the phone talks with President Macron that China would like to cooperate closely with France to support global governance efforts and contribute to its major achievements, such as “the Paris Agreement” which deals with the mitigation of global greenhouse gas emission.As the Paris agreement went into effect later, French FM Laurent Fabius called this ambitious and well-adjusted plan “a historic turning point in the goal of reducing global warning”. As for global governance in the 21st century, China has advocated globalization as it is the framework under which its unprecedented development continues to unfold. President Macron hasalso considered globalization to be a positive force, which provides many opportunities for growth and development. Due to this, Chinese media, such as Weibo and Wechat, displayed expressions of the Chinese people’s consistent preference for Macron because France under him may promote stronger cooperative links between China and the EU.
China’s empathy with France also comes from the fact that France was the first major power in the West to recognize the legitimacy of the Beijing government at ambassadorial level. This is very crucial to China because it is an ancient society based on legitimacy. Since then, the two sides have played an important role in making international relations more sound and democratic. Recently, the China-France Comprehensive Strategic Partnership has been developing at a high standard and in a sound and steady way.This time, the two countries agree to inject new impetus into the development of the comprehensive strategic partnership through enhancing the consensus and cooperation. To Chinese perspective, France is still a great power with global dimensions, especially in the fields of culture, education, nuclear energy and aerospace technology. As President Macron said on January in Beijing,France attaches importance to strengthening bilateral cooperation under the “Belt and Road” framework and he opines it is of high strategic significance. At present, the EU is facing new development, and France stands ready to actively promote EU-China cooperation for constant and forward-looking development.
Equally, China has cherished the bilateral ties with France and it also endorsed European integration from its inception. After Brexit became a reality in 2016, China consistently and clearly supported “the EU speaking with one voice”. Indeed, a French version of Brexit would have disastrous consequences for the Euro currency. It is the priority for China to maintain more open and stable financial markets as a proper environment for the French economic development. Consider that nearly 1/3 of Chinese foreign currency reserves being held in Euros, a fall of the Euro’s exchange rate would lower the value of Chinese foreign currency assets, along with the value of all investments made in the Euro-zone. Since China tends to view the Euro as a balancing currency against the U.S. dollar, it is in China’s interests to sustain strong overall relationships with the EU. As one of the key co-players of the EU, France welcomes a prosperous and dynamic China with a view that “the huge Eurasian region between France and China should become a community of interests, responsibility and shared destiny.” In this setting, France may be more instrumental in balancing against the U.S. hegemony, thus contributing to the strategic goals of China.
Undoubtedly, to the French who openly question the rise of China with their fingers pointed to the trade disputes, human rights issues and the others, President Macron has to be more patient in dealing with all the outstanding issues. Yet, as he said previously, “you can’t dislike the Chinese who buy airbus, and dislike those who invest in the airport.”In light of this, Macron has been highly praised as a standard-bearer of the European Union and a promoter of globalization. Both the continuity of European integration and the perception of globalization as a positive force in the EU are important factors for China. As Xi said when jointly meeting the press,China firmly supports the integration of Europe and welcomes France’s greater contribution to China-Europe ties. In his response, Macron said China enjoys great strength in artificial intelligence, and the two countries’ cooperation on promising sectors will yield a positive influence.
Sure, Macron’s three-day state visit to China ends, yet both powers have demonstrated the strong interest in having an in-depth exchange of their views in order to move forward China-France relations in the new era.
(*) Sean Connolly, MA in IR & Public Affairs, Jilin University