GP Short Notes # 698, 9 April 2023
France and China: The Macron-Xi meeting
On 5 April, French President Emmanuel Macron, along with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, arrived in China for a three days visit to meet with President Xi Jinping. The visit was aimed at garnering peace amid growing tensions. Macron told President Xi during the visit: "I know I can count on you to bring Russia back to reason and everybody to the negotiation table."
He also said: "We do not simply want an end to the conflict, but respect for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is the only condition for lasting peace." Whereas Xi Jinping said France and China "have the ability and responsibility to transcend differences and constraints" and that "China is willing to call on the international community, along with France, to maintain rationality and restraint, and avoid taking actions that will further escalate the crisis or make it out of control," China- France bilateral trade has grown in the past few years and amid new tensions, France hopes to continue the development of "balanced and mutually beneficial" economic and technology cooperation with China.
What is the background?
First, the French hope for China for Ukraine-Russia reconciliation. Since the war, several EU counterparts have not only supported the Ukrainian cause but also looking for peace. Macron wants to arrest the mounting tension between China and the West. Macron's spokesperson said: "China is the only country in the world capable of having an immediate and radical impact on the conflict, in one direction or the other." France observes China as a vital "game-changer" in the war and the only country that could put effective diplomatic pressure on Russia.
Second, China's position as a neutral actor and peacemaker. China released a twelve-point peace plan. The document does not directly condemn anyone but vaguely urges peace. The document reflects China's complex international interests. This document comes from the Western allegation that China supports Russia, while the two hold years of diplomatic relationship with trade, weapons and economic exchanges. On the other hand, Beijing cannot openly support the Russian cause as it brings China under Western sanctions and affecting access to Western technology, finances and market.
Third, France's de-hyphenated China approach. The major focus of the Macron-Xi meeting included de-escalating the Ukraine war and reigniting trade and economic relations with China. Von der Leyen stressed the need to "de-risk" trade with China. Macron arrived with 50 French business and cooperate delegates to discuss the future of economic and business investments. Both countries agreed to promote cultural relationships by announcing 2024 as the "China-France Year of Culture and Tourism." Besides brokering peace, France aims to relaunch an economic strategic partnership with the second largest economy China.
What does it mean?
First, China is unlikely to side with the European cause for Ukraine. Macron's visit is less likely to change China's stance.
Second, China is the only country with credible access and influence on Russia. Beijing has urged to refrain from using nuclear weapons and to opt for a peace plan. As Russia remains isolated and shunned by the world, Beijing is the only gateway to reach Moscow.
Third, China's economic advantages cannot be ignored. China is a big market and vital for France's trade development, and therefore Europe wants to reignite economic relationships benefiting both. While talking about the Ukraine issue, the meeting also focused on mending their bilateral ties with China, de-stressing the hostilities towards Chinese trade and development, which was furthered in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war.