Macron broke US' calculation to contain China
Published: Apr 09, 2023 12:53 PM
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a meeting with China's French community at the residence of France's ambassador in Beijing on April 5, 2023.Photo: AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a meeting with China's French community at the residence of France's ambassador in Beijing on April 5, 2023.Photo: AFP

The warm atmosphere of French President Emmanuel Macron's visit to China has frustrated Washington, which had hoped that the visit, accompanied by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, would be less about cooperation and more about putting pressure on China.

However, Macron tweeted at the end of the visit in three languages, French, Chinese and English "Long live the friendship between France and China!", which is undoubtedly a blow to the US strategy of wooing the West to contain China.

Macron brought more than 50 entrepreneurs to sign a large number of contracts with Chinese partners, which is no different from putting bilateral economic and trade cooperation at the forefront of defining China-France relations once again. France can be said to have taken the lead in undoing the US' containment strategy and saying "no" with its actions.

France was the first Western country to establish diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China in 1964. This country, which had a revolutionary tradition and made outstanding contributions to the development of the Western world, has always retained a sense of pride and refused to completely subserviate itself to the US. It also likes to showcase its self-importance in NATO, and it is very difficult for France to keep pace with the Western nouveau riche, the US.

When France established diplomatic ties with China in 1964, China was still in poverty, but France took the first step toward equal cooperation between the Western world and China. Today's China has become huge, with its GDP being more than six times that of France, and its attractiveness is completely different from that of 60 years ago. France has no reason to regard China as an object of containment, as the US does, rather than as a source of power to carry out normal cooperation with China. 

France is unlikely to be a "heart-to-heart" friend with China because the ideological differences between the two sides are too great. France regards itself as one of the most important sources of the scientific and democratic spirit of mankind, and its intellectual elite is very keen on instilling values in developing countries. Therefore, it is difficult to bridge the gap between the values of the two countries, which will surely cast a long-term shadow over the bilateral relations.

However, it is a more realistic and urgent task for France to continue its prosperity and maintain its power and status as a great power. France's biggest real challenge is to turn around the shrinking influence of French culture and the declining status of the French language.

China's political system is different from France's, but China is friendly to France. There is no real geopolitical conflict between the two sides. Globalization and multi-polarization are welcomed by both countries, and the two sides are partners in the UN climate action.

France and Germany are both the biggest promoters of European integration, and France's attitude toward China is representative of the EU. There are many ideological impulses in Europe that are hostile to China, but powerful practical interests that pour cold water on the leaders of EU countries have shaped Europe's actual policy towards China.

Ursula von der Leyen, a former German defense minister, now president of the European Commission is more aggressive than Angela Merkel or current German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, that is because the interests of the EU as an institution are separated from those of its member states. EU officials can raise their voices on a high profile, but leaders of EU member countries must be the last gatekeepers of their own national interests.

Macron knows how important China is and how "powerful" China is. Letting France serve as cannon fodder for the US to maintain its hegemony is a humiliation to France's diplomatic wisdom as an old Western power. France and European countries will oscillate in the wide area between China and the US for a long time, maintaining a complex balance of attitudes toward China.

Both Airbus and the French fashion industry need China, and France's strategic importance also requires a wise management and leverage of China-French relations, China has received Macron very warmly, but Macron knows well that France needs China no less than China needs France.

The author is a commentator with the Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn