Macron moves re­la­tions into high gear

China Daily European Weekly - - Com­ment - Har­vey Mor­ris The author is a se­nior me­dia con­sul­tant for China Daily. Con­tact the writer at ed­i­tor@mail.chi­nadai­

French and Chi­nese pres­i­dents are key pro­po­nents of con­tin­ued glob­al­iza­tion and in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French for­eign min­is­ter, has just paid his third visit to China this year, un­der­lin­ing the im­por­tance of a bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship that has moved into high gear since French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron came to power last year.

Macron, who went to China for the first time in Jan­uary, told for­eign am­bas­sadors in Paris last month that he planned to visit ev­ery year as part of France’s out­reach to China and wider Asia. Re­fer­ring to China’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, Macron said he hoped France could work to pre­serve its own in­ter­ests and world vi­sion while en­gag­ing in a con­struc­tive dialogue with China.

“We can’t pre­tend it does not ex­ist,” Macron said of China’s mod­ern re­vival of the an­cient Silk Road trade routes.

In re­cent years, France has been one of the main Euro­pean des­ti­na­tions for Chi­nese in­vest­ment, which dou­bled to more than $3 bil­lion be­tween 2013 and 2015 with the ac­qui­si­tion of French as­sets.

How­ever, that trend was not al­ways wel­comed by those on the pro­tec­tion­ist-minded wing of French pol­i­tics. When Chi­nese in­vestors took over the quintessen­tially French hol­i­day re­sort com­pany Club Med af­ter a long takeover bat­tle in 2015, the right-wing Na­tional Front was out­raged.

Flo­rian Phillipot, the Na­tional Front’s vicepres­i­dent, said the sale meant sur­ren­der­ing to China a com­pany that was “an am­bas­sador of our lifestyle” and he ac­cused the gov­ern­ment at the time of a to­tal lack of eco­nomic pa­tri­o­tism.

Since then, though, the Na­tional Front has been trounced in the 2017 elec­tion, which saw Macron de­feat Na­tional Front can­di­date Ma­rine Le Pen. French vot­ers opted for the outward-look­ing in­ter­na­tion­al­ist over a pro­tec­tion­ist ri­val who might have slammed the door on the evolv­ing France-China re­la­tion­ship.

In the era of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Macron and Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping have emerged as the key pro­po­nents of con­tin­ued glob­al­iza­tion and in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion — not least on cli­mate change — in the face of grow­ing pro­tec­tion­ist sen­ti­ment, not only in the US but among a va­ri­ety of Euro­pean po­lit­i­cal move­ments.

Dur­ing Le Drian’s lat­est visit to China, he and his Chi­nese coun­ter­part, Wang Yi, said they were work­ing not only to stim­u­late bi­lat­eral re­la­tions but to pre­serve the mul­ti­lat­eral trad­ing sys­tem and de­fend World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion rules.

At home, the French pres­i­dent nev­er­the­less has to sat­isfy the French pub­lic that his coun­try stands to ben­e­fit from closer ties. Ev­i­dence of that came this year dur­ing a visit to China by Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe.

At a time when French of­fi­cials were keen to main­tain the mo­men­tum in the wake of the high-pro­file Macron visit, Phillipe se­cured an agree­ment with China to lift a 2001 ban on French beef im­ports that was linked to concerns over so-called mad cow dis­ease.

As a bonus, Li Ke­qiang, the Chi­nese pre­mier, also con­firmed to Philippe China’s con­tin­ued in­ter­est in a planned pur­chase of Air­bus aircraft that has been pro­moted by the French.

As the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship evolves, Le Drian will con­tinue to fig­ure as a key player on the French side and is a suit­able choice to spear­head con­tin­u­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Le Drian was no stranger to China even be­fore his lat­est ap­point­ment. As a for­mer pres­i­dent of his home re­gion of Brit­tany, and even be­fore that, he helped fos­ter bi­lat­eral ties with China’s Shan­dong prov­ince dat­ing back to 1985.

It was in that year that Brit­tany signed a bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment with Shan­dong, which has led to three decades of cul­tural and eco­nomic ex­changes and drawn Chi­nese in­vest­ment to the French re­gion. The two re­gions have much in com­mon in terms of cli­mate and economies built on agri­cul­ture, the sea, in­dus­try and tourism.

Al­though the Macron pres­i­dency is seen as a boost for a new era of closer bi­lat­eral ties, the be­tween Brit­tany and Shan­dong shows that the Franco-Chi­nese re­la­tion­ship has a well-estab­lished his­tory.

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