French FM begins China visit to enhance strategic mutual trust
Face-to-face dialogues conducive to tackling divergences, expected to play positive role in EU-China ties: experts
Published: Nov 23, 2023 09:15 PM
China France File photo: cnsphoto

China France File photo: cnsphoto

French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna began her two-day visit to China on Thursday. She is scheduled to co-host the 6th meeting of the China-France high-level dialogue mechanism on people-to-people exchanges, paving the way for more activities in 2024 to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and France. 

The dialogue concludes the series of high-level dialogues following French President Emmanuel Macron's state visit to China in April, including the high-level economic and financial dialogue in July and strategic dialogue in October, according to the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs. 

Colonna's visit also came as Chinese President Xi Jinping called on French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday to carry forward the traditional China-France friendship and push bilateral relations to a new level during a phone conversation between the two leaders. 

Some media outlets said Colonna's visit aims to smooth relations after a European anti-subsidy probe championed by Paris into Chinese electric vehicles raised trade tensions between the two sides. 

Agreements on several concrete projects are expected to be signed during the visit in fields such as education, science and technology, culture, health and sports, tourism and young people, French media outlet Le Point reported. The two sides will also exchange views on major global challenges such as climate change, the Ukraine crisis and, particularly, the situation in Gaza, according to Le Point. 

Against the backdrop of increasing exchanges between China and Europe over the year, more face-to-face dialogues between China and France will also be conducive to enhancing strategic mutual trust, helping the two sides to work together in tackling divergences, some experts said. Meanwhile, the recent positive engagement between the US and China will also weaken the role of the US in the EU's policy toward China, especially when China always encourages the EU to enhance its strategic autonomy, they noted. 

With the European Union and China reportedly set to hold a summit in December, some experts said both sides had showed willingness to stabilize relations and prevent them from sliding sharply in the same way China-US relations did. They also predicted that China-EU relations would experience a period of "stabilizing to repairing to moving forward," but with multiple geopolitical factors, it will be difficult for them to return to the steady improvement of the early years. 

Enhancing communication 

China and France are both permanent members of the UN Security Council and independent major countries. At present, under the joint leadership of the two heads of state, bilateral relations have enjoyed sound growth, analysts said. 

"The bilateral relations between China and France have a long history and tradition, and there are many conditions for the construction of good China-France relations," Gao Jian, an expert on European studies at Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

Although the European anti-subsidy investigation into Chinese electric vehicles (EVs) is considered a negative move in China-EU trade cooperation, it won't fundamentally affect the development of the bilateral ties between China and France, Gao noted. "It's believed that the two sides will negotiate and hold discussions to find a correct pathway to tackle their divergences." 

Since Macron's successful visit to China in April this year, China-France exchanges at all levels have resumed rapidly, and bilateral cooperation in various fields has made solid progress and achieved fruitful results, Xi pointed out in the phone call with the French president on Tuesday. 

China is ready to maintain high-level exchanges with France, make a success of the next meeting of the China-France high-level dialogue mechanism on people-to-people exchanges, and push for new progress in bilateral cooperation, Xi said. 

"The dialogue between the two sides will certainly play a positive role in promoting mutual understanding and resolving differences, which will also improve the overall atmosphere," Cui Hongjian, a professor with the Academy of Regional and Global Governance of the Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

The EU is made up of member states, with major countries like France having significant influence on the bloc's decision-making process. However, due to the implementation of EU institutions, this dialogue may not have a direct or immediate effect on resolving divergences between China and Europe in terms of economy and trade, but it is crucial to maintaining cooperation and mutual trust with EU member states to prevent China-EU relations from deviating, experts said. 

EU-China in focus 

In his phone call with Macron, Xi said China and the EU should remain partners for mutually beneficial cooperation in a volatile and intertwined world, and it is hoped that France will play a constructive role in promoting the positive development of China-EU relations. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel will travel to China for the summit scheduled for December 7 to 8 — the first summit held in four years under this format — amid heightened geopolitical tensions, Politico reported on Wednesday. 

Also, the EU's anti-coercion instrument, which was designed partly with China in mind, moved closer to reality on Tuesday, the South China Morning Post reported, after EU negotiators reached a deal on exactly how it should work. 

Although the China and Europe have been moving to stabilize relations, there have been divergences on some fundamental issues, Cui noted, citing China's refusal to accept EU's perception of China as a "partner, competitor and systemic rival." 

"This shows the complexity of China-EU relations. We cannot expect to solve all the problems between us through short-term dialogue or interaction, and we need to be more patient," Cui said.

Some experts said the upcoming China-EU summit, the first face-to-face summit in the post-pandemic period, would be frank and direct, which will enhance communications on issues of principle and on global hot-spot issues, further coordinating the stances of the two sides. 

"On how to push forward the peaceful settlement of the Ukraine crisis and restore the basic social order in Palestine, China and EU share relatively large common space for working together," Gao said.