China’s rise is a matter of concern for US, but not a problem for France
Published: Jan 24, 2024 07:26 PM
Illustration: Xia Qing/Global Times

Illustration: Xia Qing/Global Times

Editor's Note:

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France, the two countries have witnessed not only tremendous development in bilateral ties, but also great changes in the global landscape. How will the tension between the US and China affect the development of France itself and China-French cooperation? What does France's emphasis on strategic autonomy mean for China-France and China-EU relations? Pascal Boniface (Boniface), the founding Director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, shared his insights with Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Zixuan.

GT: How do you evaluate the development of China-France exchanges over the past 60 years? What do you think is the most prominent achievement?

It's a long way and a historic progress for France and China. There are many changes. Of course, France is not what it used to be in 1964, but we are more or less the same kind of country, while China is totally different from that time.

There are different steps in our cooperation. In the beginning, France was allied with the US, nevertheless, we have decided to be independent, not to rely on the US for our own security. Meanwhile, given the big differences in economic and political systems, China and France have decided to work together to enlarge our room to maneuver. 

China is now the second biggest economy in the world, and maybe it could be No.1 in a few years. But the desire to cooperate, though there is a difference in political systems, is still the basis of our relationship. So sometimes we are partners, sometimes we could be rivals, but we have both accepted our differences.

GT: In April last year, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted about his trip to China on social media, saying that "there is so much for us to do together." What does he mean by saying "so much for us to do?" Which fields are promising in our future cooperation? 

We have many fields that we could cooperate in, for example, both China and France are fighting against climate change. It's a priority for our two countries. Therefore, we have been working together since the Paris Agreement in 2015. We also called for common interest to contribute to African development. Meanwhile, we are also coming into other peaceful settlements of conflict and working together at the UN Security Council to try to find a solution to the most important conflicts, both in Gaza and between Russia and Ukraine. 

France and China have differences, but we have decided to keep in contact and try to find a common solution. And France doesn't want to follow the American policy against China. France is reluctant to include China in the NATO agenda. As President Macron once said, NATO is an organization that concerns the North Atlantic, China has little to do with the North Atlantic. Both France and Europe have to set freely and independently their own policies toward China and not follow blindly Washington's policy.

GT: President Macron recently announced France's decision not to join the US-UK joint strikes on Houthi sites in Yemen. You once said that the alliance with the US makes it difficult for France to back down, as history has proven many times. And that "the time when Europe just obeys the US is over. Europeans must define their own policy by themselves." How do you see the prospects for French and European strategic autonomy? To what extent can France and even Europe get rid of dependence on the US?

To be frank, it is true that since the beginning of the war between Russia and Ukraine, it has been much more difficult to plead for European strategic autonomy.

European countries want to stick to NATO policy, so for the time being the European society is brain dead but this could change again, notably if Trump is elected in November. But regarding the specific issue of the Houthis and the strikes on Yemen, France considers that it's not a good solution, and it could only widen the problem, because the Houthis won't be deterred by the US and the UK's strikes. They will react even more strongly. So we will agree to provide a protective shelter over the boats that pass through the Red Sea, but not to make strikes on Yemen, otherwise, the situation will deteriorate.

GT: How do you see the possibility of a cease-fire between Russia and Ukraine in 2024? Europe is considered to be the biggest victim of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, how much will it affect Europe if it continues? How can China and France cooperate in promoting a cease-fire?

Honestly, these goals are desirable, but they are just impossible to reach. Maybe in a couple of months, the situation will change. The Western countries can give military help to Ukraine, but they don't want to send troops. 

GT: How will the tension between the US and China affect the development of France itself and China-France cooperation? What does France's emphasis on strategic autonomy mean for China-France and China-EU relations?

The French position is that there is a worry between China and the US. In fact, the main reason is not the difference of regime, but China's rise. So it's a matter of concern for the US, but it's not a problem for France. When I began to work on strategic issues in the 1980s, France was richer than China, and now it's the contrary. But this doesn't hinder the establishment of good relations. We are not fighting for world supremacy. Between the US and China, there is a rivalry for being the No.1 in the world. Therefore, the American perspective and the French perspective are not the same.

GT: You have also mentioned that France should not transform China into a systemic enemy. Why did you say that? Currently, there are various versions of the "China threat" theory in Europe, such as the threat of China's electric vehicles, the threat of China's wind power, etc. Which forces are hyping the "China threat" and pushing to turn China into an enemy?

China is a friend, it's also an economic competitor. We have an unbalance in trade between our two countries. Therefore, its market must be more open. If we have a strong economic exchange with China, many French producers are happy to have access to the Chinese market. China could be a rival, could be a competitor, but ''enemy'' is not the correct word to describe China.

Wu Bowei contributed to this interview.