French FM’s China visit a ‘continuation of momentum of exchange, dialogue’
Trip an impetus for positive China-EU ties, offsetting negative factors: expert
Published: Nov 24, 2023 11:26 PM Updated: Nov 25, 2023 08:27 PM


Visiting French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna met with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Chinese top diplomat Wang Yi on Friday in Beijing, which experts viewed as a continuation of this year's momentum of China-French exchanges and dialogues. And such momentum will also provide impetus for positive and healthy China-EU relations, offsetting negative factors in the context of the EU's internal chaotic views on China.

Colonna kicked off a two-day visit to China on Thursday and co-hosted the 6th meeting of the China-France high-level dialogue mechanism on people-to-people exchanges with Wang Yi on Friday, paving the way for more activities in 2024 to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of China-France diplomatic ties.

During her meeting with Li on Friday, Colonna said that Paris is committed to dialogue with Beijing, while Premier Li noted a "positive trend of China-French cooperation on all fronts," according to Reuters.

Premier Li said under the strategic leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Macron, the relationship between China and France is developing steadily, injecting more certainty and positive energy into today's uncertain world, China Central Television (CCTV) reported.

Li said that China stands ready to work with France to take the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations next year as an opportunity to adhere to the principles of mutual respect and trust, mutual benefit and win-win cooperation, taking care of each other's core interests and major concerns, deepening the mutually beneficial cooperation between the two sides, joining hands to deal with global challenges, and building the China-France Comprehensive Strategic Partnership into a stronger and more energetic one, so that it can better contribute to the prosperity of the two countries and the world, according to the CCTV.

Colonna's meeting with Li came as a four-day truce between Israel and Hamas took effect on Friday.

According to the Associated Press, Colonna said on Friday that France and China shared "global responsibilities" as permanent members of the UN Security Council, as the two must "strive to find answers to major challenges, in particular the challenges of climate, biodiversity and anything that can ease tensions in the world."

Song Luzheng, a Chinese scholar residing in France and a research fellow at the China Institute of Fudan University, told the Global Times on Friday that 59 years ago, during the Cold War era, France was brave enough to establish diplomatic relations with China in spite of pressure from the US, and the fundamental reason for this was that great powers such as China and France could not completely rely on a certain country in order to maximize their own strategic interests.

Colonna's visit demonstrated the close strategic relationship between France and China, and the main theme for the two countries' future is strategic coordination, Song said.

Continuation of momentum

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday announced that China will pilot a 15-day visa-free policy to citizens from France from December 1, 2023, to November 30, 2024. EU countries Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain are also on the list of the latest favorable policy.

During the meeting of the China-France high-level dialogue mechanism on people-to-people exchanges with Colonna, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi further noted that he hoped related departments would step up consultations to bring flights between China and France back to pre-epidemic levels.

Colonna expressed gratitude for China's decision and expressed France's willingness to strengthen cooperation with China in the areas of education, tourism and culture, according to media reports.

The two senior diplomats also attended the launch ceremony for the China-France carbon neutrality center in Beijing.

In terms of comprehensively deepening people-to-people exchanges and enhancing people's mutual understanding and friendship, Wang put forward China's suggestions, including stepping up the resumption of various exchanges and cooperation mechanisms; using the Paris Olympics as an opportunity to strengthen exchanges between athletes and cooperation in the sports industry; encouraging exchanges and cooperation between think tanks, scholars and media; expanding cooperation in the areas of aviation and aerospace, green and low-carbon technologies, and artificial intelligence, digital technology; expanding two-way study abroad and encouraging partnerships between universities and scientific institutions on both sides, according to Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Just days before Colonna's China trip, President Xi told President Macron during a phone call on Monday that the two sides should carry forward the traditional China-France friendship and push bilateral relations to a new level.

Led by the two heads of state, China-France relations have maintained a good momentum of development, with frequent high-level exchanges taking place since Macron's China visit in April.

Colonna's visit is a continuation of the momentum of China-French exchanges and dialogues this year, and it can be seen that Paris wants to play an exemplary and leading role in improving China-EU relations, Cui Hongjian, a professor with the Academy of Regional and Global Governance of the Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times on Friday.

With the 60th anniversary of the establishment of China-France diplomatic ties in 2024, the atmosphere of cooperation is expected to get warmer, Cui noted.

China-EU dialogues in various fields, from strategy to trade and economy to the scheduled China-EU Summit in December, have basically restarted offline exchanges, while only people-to-people exchanges seem to have stagnated, Cui said.

"The dialogues between Colonna and Chinese high-ranking officials at this moment shows both China and France have the intention to promote the people-to-people exchanges between China and Europe to be normalized as soon as possible," he noted.

China France Photo:VCG

China France Photo:VCG

Breaking new ground

During his meeting with Colonna, Premier Li stressed that China hopes the French side will actively encourage the European side to uphold the spirit of free trade, according to CCTV.

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

In the context of divided views within the EU, we cannot expect that the China-French relationship's exemplary role will lead to other European countries' quickly mirroring this move. But the interaction between China and France, and two sides' search for consensus, can at least provide impetus for a more positive and healthy China-EU relationship and offsets some negative aspects, Cui said.

Experts believed that the goal for China and France is very clear: To stabilize ties, and on the basis of that stabilization, to reestablish mutual trust and a new consensus, making sure that China and Europe can work together and get along better despite having different systems.

Analysts said currently there's a trend in Europe to deliberately downplay the common interests of economic and trade cooperation between China and EU, and to one-sidedly exaggerate the security risks and ideological divergence.

"This puts the China-European relationship at risk of deterioration, and is likely to follow in the footsteps of the US-China relationship," Cui said. "EU's anti-subsidy investigation into Chinese EVs is a test of this."

Both sides should try to avoid making this issue a conflict that will be magnified over time, Cui said, "Both sides need to find a solution that is acceptable to all, while finding more common interests."

Over the past few years, both China and Europe have been changing due to the multiple reasons, but the important thing is how to adapt to each other's changes, and again to clarify the mutual interests, and to find a new basis and ways of cooperation, Cui remarked.