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Why Italy Needs to Enhance Its Strategic Vision

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Modern Diplomacy meets the Italian Undersecretary for Defense Raffaele Volpi. Mr. Volpi, a senior official of the ruling Italian party “Lega”, is an authoritative voice inside the party and is highly respected by its Leader, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini.

In this brief conversation, we will talk about the future challenges that the Italian Armed Forces will have to face in the near future, the political and industrial effects on defense stemming from the Franco-German Treaty of Aachen, and concluding with reasons why Italy needs a strong strategic system that supports its key defense industries.

What are the financial challenges that the Italian armed forces will have to face in order to maintain their efficiency and advanced operations?

The operational capacity of the Armed Forces must inevitably be linked to what are strategic choices. Today, no country can think of doing everything, except perhaps the three major global powers of the United States, China, and Russia. Therefore, each country must have the opportunity, together with allies, to choose what its key strategic missions are and allocate its resources accordingly.

Making this more difficult is that no mission is the same: obviously, capacity on preserving and security national territory must remain primary. So, the bigger question remains in terms of choosing what other perspectives do we need to focus on and how do we link these choices back to the main objective, which is ultimately about how to positively and productively project our power. One must know how to choose and it is not simply a financial issue.

Let me give an example: there is a huge demand from the international community for a renewed commitment from Italy in the Mediterranean. Well, looking at the Mediterranean and the northern part of the African continent means choosing how we want to be present in the area in an intelligent and strategic way. This is not a talk about war: we are talking about power projection. Therefore, resource acquisition and allocation is key. Surely, as in all countries, resources are infinite or limitless. Therefore, very careful planning must be done: we must move beyond mere posturing, as we tend to say in diplomacy, and move on to mutual respect. We must make strategic, even geo-strategic, choices that align to effective programming.

Do you look favorably upon the development of a common European defense? If so, what role will Italy have to play, taking into account the French power of nuclear deterrence and the signing of the French-German Treaty of Aachen?

A common defense is an interesting idea. It is part of amore complex idea that can be called Euro-Atlantic, which would be a capable, strong, and authoritative Europe within a greater Atlantic Alliance. Europe needs to understand what it wants to become at a strategic level, looking both historically at organizations like NATO, which looks mainly toward Russia as the primary challenge, and how NATO itself has recognized the need to look beyond Russia, towards a southern front. This is the new front of concern for the Mediterranean, both from an ISIS standpoint and other extremist groups and also in terms of problematic immigration/refugee challenges.

The idea of Europe at this time needs to definitely be rebuilt, with the treaty of Aachen revealing the possibility of introducing the nuclear element. I do not have the impression that France and Germany are becoming closer friends. Ironically, this is shown by the need to make a treaty every few years. Behind this constant treaty-making is also the conditioning to think about the US commitment in Europe, especially on the issue of a nuclear umbrella. From the Obama administration to present day, there has been the strategic retreat of the United States, at least in concept if not yet fully implemented, from many international commitments.

Personally, I have as a secondary thought that this French-German agreement in Aachen also serves to guarantee its own possible nuclear coverage. I think the United States will not leave Europe because the alliance is too strategic for it, and not just from a military point of view. There is, however, an important aspect that France and Germany, regardless of any treaty, are already doing when it comes to their philosophy about a common defense and the joint defense project that is the construction of a common military tank. If Europe wants to be authoritative, then it must make decisions that lead to a more definitive foreign policy. We must have more aligned common goals, both diplomatically and militarily.

From an industrial point of view, what effects will this Franco-German understanding have on Italy’s defense industry?

There are difficulties in other countries. For example, Germany has an internal difficulty in having strong investments in defense, especially when they are juxtaposed against the new political and social composition of the country.Thus, concerns and perceptions can never be purely or exclusively focused on industrial development. The world of defense, not only in Europe but on a global level, is a very competitive world. It is a world that cannot be read in newspapers where, for example, two companies from different countries are allied to bring a product forward in one country smoothly while in other situations these companies and countries are competitors.

Ours is a country that ranks seventh overall in size of defense industry, so we have a capacity that derives from two factors:

First, is our talented and highly-skilled defense workforce, our people, that are incomparable. Unlike technology that can be copied, knowing how to work effectively, THIS cannot be copied.

Second, is our huge technological capacity. We have national champions that are not necessarily the largest companies, but are small and medium-sized companies that develop excellent products and are in demand all over the world.

Creating a more cohesive European defense industry could enable us to be more competitive. But I believe that this is not the chief problem. Our problem is different. Italy needs a defense system that is strong and coordinated, which focuses above all on the information communication/technology part. This brings the possibility of being aggressive in some key markets, while also having the ability to continuously monitor all the actors moving within and across these markets. We still lack such a system and this must be the challenge we address over the next few years for the defense and security industries as a whole. We are capable of having great products but we must learn to run together.

I think that in life you have to be able to always learn and see how other systems work. We have very aggressive competitors. France, first of all, with its tried and tested system, that allows its defense industries to be massively supported by government, intelligence infrastructure, design development, and further incentives. However, when I say this, we are also talking about nothing extraordinary, except the commitment to offer aid that is available to the French defense industry every day, twenty-four hours a day. Our government must realize that same set of guarantees for our national security industry.

To face increasingly competitive foreign groups, how do you view the potential creation of a national champion through the alliance of Leonardo and Fincantieri?

I do not see a need for it. I think there must be moments of important confrontation between groups. It is not necessary to create a super national champion. The important thing is to work together, to have the ability to relate, thanks to a strong and cohesive Italian system with other major international players such as Boeing, Lockheed, and Airbus. The defense industry is a projection industry, as in imagining what competitive challenges will be emerging in the future. It is now wise to project thirty years forward with accuracy, so a strong systemic national security industry means it can also be an effective competitor/partner with other global companies.

There is one aspect that we must always remember: the defense industry is a sector that concerns national security and national interests, so you cannot choose wrong in terms of alliances. Those choices are best guaranteed when both the future of technology AND geopolitics are taken fully into account. It is important that political choices are made in a very serious manner, strictly linked with national interest. Our national interest comes to us from history: from my point of view, this is chiefly an Atlantic Alliance with a strong Europe at its center.

Are you in favor of the development of nuclear energy for military purposes in Italy?

I believe that Italy has a complementary opportunity compared to what the general choices of the Alliance can be. We have a strategic unique position and have a capacity for multilateral dialogue that other countries do not have. So our form of deterrence is where we are and with whom we talk. Our strength is a calm, reasoning force with respect for sensitivities that is not common even to our allies. This is because we are a country within the Mediterranean region that has a unique capability to have relationships with everyone, even in the most difficult moments. So, nuclear power exists, it will persist and remain, even though it tends to be a rather blunt instrument. We, on the other hand, must play the card of “Italianness” within the geopolitical context with the strategic deftness it deserves.

Co-author: O. Rafaggio

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The Rabidly Hypocritical EU

Eric Zuesse

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Unlike America under Donald Trump, who is proudly psychopathic and went so far as to blurt out that his followers would accept his leadership even if he were to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, the European Union is so rabidly hypocritical (Trump would probably call it “politically correct”) that its leaders routinely moralize about ‘human rights and democracy’ even while their governments indiscriminately rob and slaughter people in foreign lands (as will be documented here). EU leaders assist U.S.-led atrocities while using prettier language to describe their alleged motivation for these policies. Though the U.S. Government also occasionally employs such verbal sucker-punches (insincere or “politically correct” rhetoric), such moralizing is now the exception for the U.S. Government, and is no longer (as it had been under the immediately prior U.S. President, Barack Obama) the routine American practice — very much like the EU’s was, and still remains: such ‘idealistic’ hypocrisy.

But even Obama wasn’t as hypocritical as EU leaders still are. The biggest difference between the U.S. and the EU is that, whereas even under America’s Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning (and continuing to be predominantly sanctified) President Obama (the invader of Libya, Syria, Yemen, and more), America’s head-of-state repeatedly said that America is “the one indispensable nation” — meaning that all other nations are “dispensable.” By contrast, there is no EU leader, and not even any European head-of-state, who says, in the modern era, anything of the sort. Adolf Hitler infamously did it when reasserting “Deutschland über alles!” (i.e, that Germany is the one indispensable nation). But modern Europe’s leaders know better than to copy such rhetoric. (Trump’s version, of course, is “America first,” but this can mean many different things, and not only  mean that “America is the one indispensable nation.” Obama’s version was far less ambiguous than Trump’s is, because Obama’s clearly means that every other  nation is “dispensable,” and that only America is not. And, yet, still, Europe’s leaders accepted  it — they accepted  that their  nations were and are “dispensable.” After all: they are vassals.) 

America’s leaders are simply more honest about their psychopathy than modern Europe’s are. In fact, ever since at least the time of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency, “Greed is good” has been America’s unofficial, but clearly dominant, political philosophy — virtually the official American philosophy. How many European nations today publicly and proudly assert anything like that? Do any?

A recent example of the EU’s hyper-hypocrisy was headlined at the far-right UAWire Ukrainian news-site on March 31st, “EU urges Russia to stop attacks on Crimean Tatars”, which reported that, 

The EU decisively condemns the arrest of 23 Crimean Tatars in police raids by the Russian occupation authorities in Crimea on 27 and 28 March, said EU Spokesperson for EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Maja Kocijancic in a statement.

“A court in the Crimean peninsula, illegally annexed from Ukraine by Russia, has ruled that all 23 Crimean Tatars detained on 27 March and 28 March will be held in pre-trial detention until 15 May. They are accused of belonging to the organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia but not in Ukraine. The European Union does not recognise the enforcement of Russian legislation in Crimea and Sevastopol and expects all illegally detained Ukrainians to be released without delay,” Kocijancic stated.

“The recent detentions, as well as the prior searches of their private property, constitute the latest targeting of Crimean Tatars, human rights defenders, and people who have spoken out peacefully against the illegal annexation by Russia of the Crimean peninsula,” the EU spokesperson stressed. …

Here is what Wikipedia says about that banned-by-Russia group:

Hizb ut-Tahrir (Arabic: حزب التحرير) (Translation: Party of Liberation) is an international, pan-Islamist political organisation, which describes its ideology as Islam, and its aim as the re-establishment of the Islamic Khilafah (Caliphate) to resume the Islamic way of life in the Muslim world. The caliphate would unite the Muslim community (Ummah)[4] upon their Islamic creed and implement the Shariah, so as to then carry the proselytising of Islam to the rest of the world.[5] …

Hizb ut-Tahrir has been banned in countries such as Germany, Russia, China, Egypt, Turkey,[14] and all Arab countries except Lebanon, Yemen, and the UAE.[15][16] In July 2017, the Indonesian government formally revoked Hizbut ut-Tahrir’s charter, citing incompatibility with government regulations on extremism and national ideology.[17] …

They declare the necessity of jihad so that Da’wah will be carried “to all mankind” and will “bring them into the Khilafah state,” and the importance of declaring “Jihad against the Kuffar without any lenience or hesitation;” (Ummah’s Charter),[97][117] as well as the need to fight unbelievers who refuse to be ruled by Islam, even if they pay tribute (The Islamic Personality).[97][118]

Do Europeans really want people such as this to be increasing in the EU? The Ukrainian regime that Obama had installed in February 2014 thinks it’s fine, but do Europeans, really? Obama had fooled Russia’s Government, at least until his 2012 re-election, to think that he wasn’t aiming like all his predecessors since at least the time of Reagan were aiming — for the U.S. Government ultimately to conquer and absorb Russia into the steadily growing U.S. empire — but after the bloody U.S. coup right on Russia’s doorstep in Ukraine in 2014, the EU has been clearly the U.S. regime’s vassal in this conquer-Russia enterprise — participating in it, though reluctantly.

The EU’s leadership has consistently been working in secret to assist jihadists — mass-murderers and terrorists — whenever jihadists are fighting in the U.S.-led international war against Russia and against any nation whose leadership (such as Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Viktor Yanukovych, and Nicolas Maduro) are either allied with or even just friendly toward Russia. Syria, and its President, Bashar al-Assad, constitute one particular example of this EU hypocrisy. 

Here are examples of this U.S.-EU support for jihadists that are trying to overthrow a Russia-friendly government:

On 10 December 2012, AFP bannered “Jihadists seize key north Syria army base”, and reported that, “Jihadists led by the radical Al-Nusra Front seized a strategic army base in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo on Monday, in a fresh setback for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. … On the political front, the EU gave a vital boost to the newly-formed Syrian opposition coalition, describing it as the ‘legitimate representatives’ of the Syrian people following talks in Brussels with its leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib.” 

On that very same day, December 10th, Britain’s Telegraph headlined and sub-headed “Syrian rebels defy US and pledge allegiance to jihadi group: Rebel groups across Syria are defying the United States by pledging their allegiance to a group that Washington will designate today a terrorist organization for its alleged links to al-Qaeda.” That report opened: “A total of 29 opposition groups, including fighting ‘brigades’ and civilian committees, have signed a petition calling for mass demonstrations in support of Jabhat al-Nusra, an Islamist group which the White House believes is an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq.” So: no one could reasonably doubt that America’s alleged ‘rebels’ in Syria were, in fact, loyal to al-Nusra. Yet, the EU and U.S. continued supporting them.

Also on that same day, Bill Roggio at Long War Journal bannered, “Al Nusrah Front, foreign jihadists seize key Syrian base in Aleppo”, and he reported that, “The Syrian government has warned that rebels may also use chemical weapons after the Al Nusrah Front took control of a chlorine factory in Aleppo last week. Islamists hold sway over new rebel military command.” So: it was already clear, even then, that the ‘rebels’ were interested in perpetrating against civilians a chemical-weapons attack that their supporters in the U.S. and EU could then blame against Syria’s Government as being an alleged reason to invade Syria by their own forces in order to ‘protect the Syrian people and establish democracy and human rights there’, or similar lies.

The next day, December 11th, Roggio reported that “The Al Nusrah Front has by far taken the lead among the jihadist groups in executing suicide and other complex attacks against the Syrian military. The terror group is known to conduct joint operations with other Syrian jihadist organizations.”

And, on the very next day, December 12th, Roggio headlined “Syrian National Coalition urges US to drop Al Nusrah terrorism designation”. Anyone who, after this, didn’t know that the U.S. and EU were supporting jihadists to take control over Syria, was very deceived, because the truth was now known, and was then being subsequently hidden from the public, by almost all of the subsequent ‘news’-reporting. But there were a few exceptions:

On 26 January 2013, Roggio reported that,

The Al Nusrah Front has now claimed credit for 46 of the 55 suicide attacks that have taken place in Syria since December 2011, according to a tally of the operations by The Long War Journal (note that multiple suicide bombers deployed in a single operaton are counted as part of a single attack).

Al Nusrah spearheads military assaults

Al Nusrah has also served as the vanguard for jihadist forces in the major attacks on Syrian military bases. In concert with allied jihadist groups such as the Ahrar al Sham, the Islamic Vanguard, Mujahedeen Shura Council, the Muhajireen Group, and Chechen fighters, the terror group has overrun three large Syrian installations since last fall. 

On 20 April 2013, Reuters headlined “Rebels battle with tribesmen over oil in Syria’s east” and reported that, “The EU said this week it wants to allow Syria’s opposition to sell crude in an effort to tilt the balance of power towards the rebels.” The EU supported and backed the ‘rebels’ seizure and black-market sale of whatever oil they could steal from Syria. This was the EU’s ‘humanitarianism’.

On 22 April 2013, the AP headlined “EU lifts Syria oil embargo to bolster rebels” and opened: “The European Union on Monday lifted its oil embargo on Syria to provide more economic support to the forces fighting to oust President Bashar Assad’s regime. The decision will allow for crude exports from rebel-held territory.”

On 1 May 2013, TIME bannered “Syria’s Opposition Hopes to Win the War by Selling Oil” and reported that, “Without an embargo, European companies can now legally begin importing barrels of oil directly from rebel groups, which have seized several oil fields in recent months, mostly around the eastern area of Deir Ezzor. That would provide the opposition with its first reliable source of income since the revolt erupted in Feb. 2011, and in theory hasten the downfall of Bashar Assad’s regime.” No mention was made, in any of this reporting, that this constituted aggression by the EU against the sovereign nation of Syria under the U.N.’s Charter and was therefore an international war-crime. The Western press didn’t care about such things — but only about ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ and other such billionaires’ bumper-stickers for suckers.

On 22 February 2019, one of the U.N.’s top experts on international law, Alfred de Zayas, was interviewed for a half hour on the ways in which America and its allies are blatantly violating international law by attempting a coup to overthrow Venezuela’s Government, and by going even further and imposing sanctions against Venezuela’s Government because it was resisting this (in effect) economic invasion-by-means-of-sanctions. The EU is one of these invading countries, but some of its constituent states oppose the U.S.-sponsored invasion. 

On 31 March 2019, I headlined “EU Joins NATO’s War Against Russia” and reported on the EU’s knee-jerk increase of economic sanctions against Russia as being the initial phase — the sanctions phase — of the U.S. regime’s wars to overthrow the leaders of nations that are friendly toward Russia (e.g., Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad, Viktor Yanukovych, and now Nicolas Maduro), and now (ever since the 2012 Magnitsky Act sanctions fraud against Russia) increasingly to apply Washington’s economic sanctions against Russia itself. 

In international affairs, the EU therefore is clearly a stooge of the constantly aggressive U.S. regime.

After all, the U.S. regime had initiated and led the creation of the European Union. This scheme started as soon as FDR died and Harry S. Truman became America’s President. The death of FDR was also, in a sense, the death of any real democracy in the United States. Truman was forced onto the Democratic Party’s Presidential ticket in 1944 by the Democratic Party’s centi-millionaires against the will of FDR. Truman and Churchill started the Cold War, which increasingly became mass thought-control in America (culminating with Joseph R. McCarthy) and with the CIA’s operations Gladio in Europe and Mockingbird in the U.S. itself. First, NATO, and then the EU, were born as part of that secret U.S. strategy to conquer Russia even after the end of the U.S.S.R and of its communism and of its Warsaw Pact counterbalance to America’s NATO anti-Russian military alliance. Ever since that time (1991), America’s controlling owners of international corporations (our billionaires) have also controlled — via European nations’ own super-rich — first, Europe’s national Governments, and then the EU itself. It secretly remains true even after the 1991 end of the Cold War on Russia’s side. 

Consequently: when there’s a choice to be made between supporting jihadists (or other extremists such as — in Ukrainenazis) or else to side with Russia (or any nation that’s friendly toward Russia), the American team always back the jihadists or other extremists, and they say it’s being done ‘for human rights and democracy’ and other such hypocrisies, while they perpetrate actual war-crimes, and make fools of their own publics, in order ultimately to conquer Russia. That’s doing it the “diplomatic” way, and they don’t like Trump’s doing it the “Greed is good” way. The directness of his greed makes themselves look bad. That’s why these super-hypocrites preferred Obama.

Author’s note: first posted at strategic-culture.org

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Tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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It has long been known that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a dysfunctional state, which survives only because it is a protectorate of the West. That is why discomfort has always been present since the end of the civil war in 1995. However, lately the tensions between the constituent nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina are getting stronger. The announcement by the Republika Srpska Police that will form a reserve police force, caused anger among the Bosniaks, who began to openly threat the Serbs.

The Party of democratic action (SDA), the strongest Bosniak party, warned the authorities of the Republika Srpska to be “aware of the consequences” of their announcement of forming a reserve force of the entity police and they called on them to suspend that process. As stated in the SDA statement, the introduction of a reserve force would violate the current balance in the number of police officers and negatively affect the overall security image in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The party stated that Serbs must be aware that, if Republika Srpska authorities insist on introducing a reserve police force, it will provoke a decisive and concrete response in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its cantons, in the form of the introduction of reserve units and the acquisition of new police equipment.

“In doing so, they must take into account that the Federation has much higher financial and other capacities when it comes to the possible procurement of additional equipment and engagement of people for police forces. That’s why it’s best not to move into such a process at all. We urge the authorities of the Republika Srpska not to take any steps in that direction, because the incitement of any instability is not in the interest of any people and citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also in the region, ” the SDA said in a statement.

However, reality in the field is different. Bosniak politicians regularly speak about the balance of forces between the Republika Srpska and the Federation of BiH, but do not speak about the number of police officers in both entities. The current data shows that Republika Srpska police has 6,700 police officers and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina 10,400 police officers. According to the announcements of the Republika Srpska government, the reserve force of the Republika Srpska police should number about 1,000 people. Which clearly shows that even with reserve police, Republika Srpska police will have fewer police officers than Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bosnia’s state-level government has not been formed for more than six months after the election, because the Bosniak member of the tripartite Presidency Šefik Dzaferovic from the Party for Democratic Action (SDA) said, he refuses to greenlight the proposed prime minister – in Bosnia called the Chairman of the Council of Ministers – because the candidate is opposed to the country’s path towards NATO membership. Bosnia has previously pursued NATO membership under strong pressure and threats from the West, but in recent years the Serb politicians managed to resist the pressure from the West, and the next candidate for the prime minister comes from Dodik’s party which vigorously rejects membership in the alliance.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who now chairs Bosnia`s tripartite Presidency, said on Tuesday that the main Bosniak party in the country is blocking the forming of the Bosnia’s Government after October 2018 election, to protect the illegal production of arms in factories it controls.

On Tuesday, he said the party is controlling the illegal production of weapons and that he informed Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic about it. He alleged that lists are made of all Bosniak men capable of joining the military and that those are being profiled in the sense of where they were during the war. Those who have attended military training are being taken into consideration of how they can be prepared for some eventualities, he said.

Dodik noted that arms and ammunition factories in the Federation (FBIH), the semi-autonomous entity within the country mostly shared between Bosniaks and Croats, are directly under control by SDA and that they have  increased their uncontrolled production. He recalled the statement that one year ago, when Bosniak leader and SDA head Bakir Izetbegovic attended a ceremony which marked the 26th anniversary of the establishment of the Bosnian Army.

Izetbegovic then said that Bosnia will not waste its money on buying rocket systems and fighter planes but rather rely on its own armed industry which will produce for export but also for “just in case, God forbid”.

“Now their plan can be seen clearly. They want to keep the Serbs that suit them in the Council of Ministers so that their arms factories are permitted to work and their intelligence agency can continue to follow and control officials from Republika Srpska and Serbia without interference.” Dodik said, adding that it is something that needs to be resolved quickly.

Dodik added that the international community has destroyed all arms factories in Republika Srpska and left six such factories in Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”Now we see that there is an illegal plan to produce arms and ammunition in factories, we are receiving information about this. We are asking for that information to be checked, whether it is true or not.”

First published in our partner International Affairs

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From Apprehensions to Ambitions: The French Approach to China

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General Secretary of China Xi Jinping’s tour of Italy, Monaco and France on March 21–26, 2019, caused a stir across Europe. What approach should be taken to projects being proposed under the Belt and Road Initiative? What threats are posed by China’s penetration into the EU economy? What foreign economic policy should be pursued in the current trade and economic confrontation between the United States and China? These and similar issues have been discussed by European leaders for years, and now, with Xi Jinping’s latest visit, the debates have taken on a new significance. While Brussels and Berlin are more concerned about maintaining competitiveness with China, Rome only added fuel to the fire, becoming the first EU founding country to join the Belt and Road Initiative, despite Europe’s attempts to come up with a joint stance on its relations with China.

Paris could not resist getting involved, especially since France was hosting Xi Jinping in the year marking the 55th anniversary of the country’s official recognition of the People’s Republic of China. President of France Emmanuel Macron and his government are attempting to identify the opportunities and threats of cooperating with Beijing and determine how French diplomacy should act in order to maximize the potential benefits and avoid possible mistakes. At the same time, China is a hot topic in French society, with politicians, international affairs experts and journalists all discussing it. French business is also closely watching the situation, looking for new opportunities to break into the Chinese market while protecting its interests from competition in the East.

This article deals with the specific features of France’s take on its relations with China: 1) the basic sentiments about and assessments of China; 2) the reasons for the French leadership’s concerns about China’s might; 3) the benefits of cooperation between France and China; and 4) the impact of the France–China dialogue on the interests of other international actors.

China: Pros and Cons

When visiting China in January 2018, Macron stated, rather pompously, that France and China were “sharing a rational view of global history” and “building a great friendship” based on the shared values of “reason, fairness and balance.” However, Macron subsequently hinted repeatedly at the danger of China’s “hegemony” (including in Canberra in May 2018) and stressed that “the times of Europe’s naivety with regard to China are over” (in Brussels in March 2019). While these statements seemingly contradict one another, they demonstrate perfectly well the duality of opinions currently held in France about China. This applies not just to Macron, but to the entire country.

On the one hand, there is a notionally “pro-Chinese” camp, whose representatives speak favourably about China and even maintain certain ties with the it. Strange as it may seem, this view is shared by many retired and active politicians. One of these is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the far-left movement Unbowed France. Back in 2008, during an escalation in Tibet, Mélenchon sided with Beijing and spoke against the idea of boycotting the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in China. In the run-up to the 2017 presidential election in France, he hailed China’s economic achievements and suggested that that country, “with its industry, technology, science and cultural development,” should be a privileged partner of France. The French Socialists can boast an even richer history of contacts with China: in 1981, shortly before he was elected president, François Mitterrand visited the country as part of his party’s delegation, and President François Hollande in 2014 received Xi Jinping in Paris (he also visited with Xi Jinping in China in 2018, following his resignation from office).

There are also pro-Chinese politicians to be found among France’s right-wing politicians. In particular, former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has long been a major lobbyist for business contacts with China (he has even been officially cleared to conduct this activity recently by the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France). Laurent Wauquiez, the current leader of the center-right party The Republicans, is formally against Chinese capital infiltrating the French economy, but the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes over which he presides recently founded a joint financial fund with Chinese partners. Wauquiez himself visited China in 2017 to hold meetings in support of the Republican presidential candidate François Fillon.

Several former politicians of different affiliations, including former ministers, are now employed by Chinese companies, including Jean-Louis Borloo, who is with Huawei, and Bruno Le Roux, who is with CRRC. Both houses of the French parliament have France–China friendship groups. In the Senate, approximately a third of the group is represented by the Republicans. In the National Assembly, the group is dominated by the president’s centrist party The Republic on the Move! (with Unbowed France also represented). Finally, some of the current government members (Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Ministry for the Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire) periodically visit China in hopes of strengthening bilateral economic ties.

On the other hand, there is the camp of anti-China “alarmists”, which is wary of Beijing’s growing influence. The most vocal member of this camp is Marine Le Pen, who is urging “reasonable protectionism” in France’s trade and economic relations with China, not unlike that professed by President of the United States Donald Trump. However, the key vigilantes when it comes to China are not individual politicians, but some very reputable international experts. President of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) Thierry de Montbrial is says that China is “playing the intra-European controversies,” using a “quasi-imperial” strategy in its efforts to implement the Belt and Road Initiative and striving to become the leading world power in the next few decades. IFRI Director Thomas Gomart concurs, noting that China’s increasing foreign activity is matched by its growing authoritarianism at home. Their colleague Alice Ekman explains that China and France have differing views of the multifaceted world, even if they describe it in the same vein: for Beijing, it is a source of influence, while for Paris it is more of a way of seeking European unity. Pascal Boniface, Director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), points out that China is deliberately developing bilateral ties with the EU member states, as it easily outweighs any single European country. François Godement, a Senior Advisor to Institut Montaigne, remarks that China historically is very consistent in protecting its interests and is unlikely to compromise, which is quite uncomfortable for Europe when it comes to negotiations.

These and similar opinions are being actively disseminated by the French media, which often sound alarmist with regard to Chinese politics. In fact, many French citizens seem to identify with this alarmism. A recent survey conducted by Kantar Group indicates that 81 per cent of those polled believe China to be “an influential world power,” with 60 per cent of respondents describing the country as being influential or extremely influential with regard to France. A total of 47 per cent define EU–China relations as being imbalanced in favour of China. In addition, 50 per cent of those polled perceive Chinese investments negatively, and 47 per cent believe China has already overtaken France technologically.

A Power Imbalance

In actual fact, France does have good reason to be vigilant.

First, France is evidently no match for China economically. Back in 1980, the two countries were comparable in terms of their GDP PPP share: France was slightly stronger, at 4.32 percent against Communist China’s 2.32 percent. Now, almost 30 years on (in 2018), Beijing is in a totally different league with 18.72 percent, against Paris’s meagre 2.19 per cent. According to the French treasury and customs service, there is a massive imbalance in bilateral trade in favour of China. In 2017, Beijing purchased 19 billion euros’ worth of French commodities (4 percent of all French exports, which put China in the seventh place among France’s key foreign customers), but exported 49 billion euros’ worth of goods to France (9 per cent of all French imports, making Beijing the country’s second largest supplier). Interestingly, no other country in the world demonstrates such an imbalance in its trade with France. France’s overall share of the Chinese market is relatively low at 1.5 per cent (mainly present in China’s aerospace, electronics, agricultural, chemical and luxury sectors).

According to the French Embassy in Beijing, there are 1100 French companies operating in China which have generated a total of 570,000 local jobs. In France, the 700 Chinese and Hong Kong businesses support just 45,000 jobs. The possibility of France’s strategic economic sectors falling into the Chinese hands may not appear to be as much of a problem as it is in Italy and Germany at the moment, but there are certain preconditions for this (given China’s sustained interest in the Port of Marseilles, DongFeng Concern’s participation in Groupe PSA, etc.). Chinese investment in France grew by 86 per cent in 2018, with the highest growth reported in the hi-tech sector. The French government expects to be able to resist this “plunder” (as Le Maire put it) by way of expanding the scope of the 2014 Montebourg Decree, under which any investment in France’s strategic sector is to be approved by the government.

Second, France is extremely wary of potential Chinese espionage (including, but not limited to, industrial espionage). In December 2017, the French authorities detained several people who were believed to have been Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE) officers subsequently turned by China. According to Le Monde, they had been feeding China information about their former employer’s operating methods. In October 2018, the media picked up Le Figaro’s investigation, which had concluded that Chinese secret services were actively using fake social network accounts to make contact with French public servants and employees of key healthcare, IT and nuclear enterprises. Promising candidates would be offered remuneration for their cooperation and an opportunity to visit China “for a conference or seminar.” In this context, it is worth noting that France is home to the largest Chinese community in Europe (approximately 500,000 people), which is hard for the French authorities to penetrate and may potentially be used by Chinese diplomats and secret services “for the acquisition of political, scientific, technological and commercial intelligence.”

Third, France and China directly compete in certain regions, first and foremost in Africa. France, for example, is worried about China’s military and economic presence in Djibouti. Macron visited the country during his recent tour of Africa. Of no less import was his visit to Ethiopia, where French businesspeople are aiming to carve a bigger niche (including at the expense of China). Also, China is sizing up the potential resources of the Sahel, especially the uranium in Niger, which has historically been controlled by France (as represented by Operation Serval in Mali). Notably, in January 2019, China joined the financing of the G5 Sahel joint contingent and also proposed to equip and outfit the force. France is also nervous about China’s growing naval might. Hence Paris’s contacts with the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force and its effort to build 12 Barracuda-class submarines for Australia.

Reasons for Rapprochement

All this notwithstanding, in building its policy towards China, France is weighing up all the pros and cons of developing a partnership with the country.

These certainly include new economic advantages. The French leadership believes that, if China agrees to let the country into its domestic market and also develops the Belt and Road Initiative on the basis of reciprocity, then this will somewhat correct the trade imbalance currently observed between the two countries. Accordingly, the vision is that Chinese capital penetrating the EU economy could be both curtailed in France and somehow made up for by similar activities in China. Exports to China are of particular importance to French companies at present, as the national economy is still recovering from years of stagnation. In this sense, the main result of Xi Jinping’s visit to Paris was the signing of a hefty bundle of business contracts, including the Airbus deal for 300 airliners worth a whopping 30 billion euros. Immediately after Xi Jinping’s tour, Beijing sent another important signal that it is prepared to cooperate: the country’s intellectual property court had suddenly sided with the French appellant in a trial.

In addition to the economy, Paris has certain foreign policy ideas with regard to Beijing. France’s logic suggests that maintaining full-fledged ties with China, as well as reciprocal visits and joint declarations, is an indication of its important role in the world and stresses its status as a country that is capable of independently developing dialogue with the strongest global powers. Moreover, this dialogue concerns high-profile issues, including multilateralism, global trade reform and climate change (in their joint communique, Macron and Xi Jinping agreed that their positions were close on most of the topics). Xi Jinping’s visit to France is being used by both parties as a demonstration of their prestige, and the Chinese leader used this notion expertly by mentioning, in his piece for Le Figaro, the spirit of independence which guided France 55 years ago when it recognized Communist China.

Today, however, the French leadership is striving for supremacy, not only at the national level, but also across all of Europe. The long-standing dream of the French presidents has always been to increase their own authority and use Europe as a kind of magnifying lens. This dream is now becoming increasingly important in the context of China. Macron is aiming to form a common European front above and beyond bilateral relations with Beijing, one that should allow every EU member to talk to China with one voice and defend common interests in the face of a common “systemic rival” (as the European Commission recently described China). It is for this very purpose that Macron invited Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker for the concluding phase of his talks with Xi Jinping (so the two could outline once again that the European Union’s chief criterion for China’s projects was mutual benefit). In an editorial piece, Le Mond said that, by taking the initiative, Macron had “proven the sincerity of his pro-EU approach and actually outlined Brussels’ new strategy towards China.” France is trying to be the main diplomatic “organizer” of the EU–China dialogue, although Italy’s behaviour (including its own business interests) seriously undermines these efforts.

China’s own interest in cooperation with France is understandable. France wields some political weight in the European Union. It is the European Union’s second largest economy with diverse industry, technology and major ports. From the point of view of the Belt and Road Initiative, it is logical to use France as another “entry point” to Europe and the Mediterranean. On a global scale, it would definitely not hurt Beijing to get close to another permanent member of the UN Security Council and a nuclear power.

Points to Consider for Other Actors

To conclude, here are a few thoughts about the significance of the current relations between France and China relations to other parties in the light of Xi Jinping’s visit to Paris.

On the whole, the European Union could either benefit or suffer from France’s evolving cooperation with China. On the one hand, it would be very convenient for Brussels if someone did all the legwork for it in terms of uniting the member states in the face of China, especially if it is the Euro-optimist Macron who does this legwork. On the other hand, there are fears that France, too, will follow in the footsteps of Italy sooner or later by officially joining the Belt and Road Initiative, given the bilateral economic interest. In that case, there would be no hope left for a united EU front; moreover, all the European integration drive would begin to erode.

The United States is being forced to revise its position in Europe in the light of Xi Jinping’s visit: is China is beginning to establish control of the European Union, pushing Washington to the side-lines? While the United States is offering the European Union a rather hard line of dialogue, China, despite all the reservations about it, is increasingly becoming a more convenient partner for European nations because of its tendency to make appealing proposals from the get-go. In addition, as Russian political analyst Timofei Bordachev notes, by including the European Union in the broader Eurasian context, Beijing is effectively securing itself against the constant fear that the United States will decide to blockade shipping routes linking China to Europe and the Middle East.

For Russia, Xi Jinping’s European tour once again demonstrated that China is being very pragmatic in refusing to make a choice between Russia and the European Union: both are equally important to its plans. It would be interesting to see how European countries, including France, seek a balance between the economic benefits from cooperation with China and the need to protect their own business, because this problem is no less relevant for Moscow. China is gradually becoming a common topic for France–Russia and EU–Russia relations.

In January 2018, Emmanuel Macron promised to arrange official visits to China annually until the end of his tenure. Whether he will keep this promise in 2019 remains unclear, but the next phase in the dialogue involving France, the European Union and China is scheduled for April 9, when the EU–China summit will be held. Xi Jinping’s March visit to France clearly demonstrated that Paris definitely wants to be an important partner of Beijing, both bilaterally and at the regional level. It is symbolic that, as the French media likes to stress, Macron’s name roughly translates into Chinese as “the horse vanquishes the dragon.” The problem, however, is that the dragon has his own plans for the horse.

First published in our partner RIAC

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