Why Sino-French ties matter more today
On May 7, France will elect a new president, and as has been the case in previous electoral campaigns, presidential candidates have been focusing on domestic issues. President Francois Hollande’s successor will nevertheless rapidly realize that, in a globalized world, domestic and international issues are deeply interrelated and that, in a century in which China has regained centrality, the relations between Paris and Beijing not only deserve the greatest attention but also call for strategic actions.
China should be on the top of the next French president’s agenda for at least six reasons: necessity to strengthen the links between China and the European Union to balance the transpacific interactions, the design of a more effective global governance, the absolute imperative of sustainability, the creation of an AfroEurasian partnership of prosperity along the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, shared economic growth and the quest for equilibrium between a world of ubiquitous technology and human dignity.
Following the election of Donald Trump as US president, China has de facto become the most important external support for European integration. Paris and Beijing have to boost EU-China relations so their interactions can continue to weigh in a world whose center of gravity is rapidly shifting toward the Pacific.
In the post-Brexit world, France and China stand as the only two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council representing the EU and Asia. The synergies between Paris and Beijing have therefore a unique role to play in global security issues.
A wise political combination between what former French foreign minister Laurent Fabius called the puissance d’influence of France, France’s influential power, and China’s growing centrality can contribute to the progress of global governance. The G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, in July will be an opportunity for the two countries to demonstrate that their strategic partnership is really productive.
On environmental issues, France and China, architects of the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference’s success, have to make sure the Paris agreement is implemented despite the regressive attitude of the new US administration.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative takes into account the Eurasian realities, but it also involves Africa. With its traditional presence in Africa, France is ideally positioned to co-build an Afro-Eurasian partnership of prosperity and peace. Such an ambitious and pro-active approach would also introduce much needed new dynamics in Sino-French economic relations.
Sino-French economic relations are certainly significant, but there is still considerable space to develop trade and investments between the two countries.
Following an increase in 2015, commercial exchanges between the two sides dropped by about 4 percent last year. And France’s market share in China was 1.6 percent last year compared with 5.5 percent for Germany.
Besides, China and France should also have a renewed ambition for culture, and make humanism a keystone of their global approach. Cyberspace and the learning machines do not have to be in contradiction with humanity, culture and arts, and China and Europe have a responsibility to find for humankind the right balance between technological advancement and human dignity.
The mutual appreciation between the two countries, the vibrant Chinese community in France and the entrepreneurial French community in China constitute the unique and solid foundation of SinoFrench relations.
Rapid global transformation does not necessarily diminish their importance, but to remain mutually beneficial and globally significant, Paris and Beijing have to fully appreciate their potential and strategically understand the objectives to be achieved.
The author is founder of the Europe-China Forum, and the New Silk Road Initiative, and director of the Academia Sinica Europaea, China-Europe International Business School.