Duped by Russia: France Falls Into Uneasy Diplomacy With China

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In order to counter China’s hegemony, a multiple encirclement by the democratic countries is being formed. But is France in it, or out?

Will France do it again? Last year, they aimed to mediate the peace in Ukraine but were deceived by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Now, they are getting involved with China’s President Xi Jinping. Is this going to be alright?

President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Beijing on April 5. Speaking about the purpose of his visit, he said that China can play an important role because of its close ties with Russia. He also mentioned that China has shown a willingness to resolve conflicts. His plan is to embrace China and pressure Russia into a ceasefire.

On April 7, Macron visited Guangdong Province, accompanied by business and cultural figures. The place has a personal significance to Xi Jinping as it was where his father, who served as the First Secretary, promoted China’s economic reform.

Where Is France Heading?

In mid-March, a symposium on China was held in Paris. An attendee from Taiwan raised a hand and stood up, pointing out that Macron had made a big mistake in Ukraine. Then the Taiwanese asked what Macron intended to discuss with Xi Jinping, glaring at the French experts on stage.

Those words revealed a clear sense of distrust towards Macron, who had engaged in hours of fruitless phone calls with Putin last year. It was as if they were suggesting that Macron might repeat the same mistake with Xi Jinping.

I heard voices of concern even from a Japanese diplomat in France. At one of his meetings, French government officials praised the joint development plan for the next generation fighter aircraft by Japan, the United Kingdom, and Italy. The reason for the praise, however, was that “Japan acted without the United States.” That caused some confusion. 

The diplomat expressed concern. He stated that the Japan-US alliance is the cornerstone of Japan’s foreign policy. Moreover, it is important for France to understand that.

The Charles de Gaulle Mindset

In 1964, France established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China despite opposition from the United States. At the time, President Charles de Gaulle approached China as a way of counterbalancing the bipolarization of the world between the US and the Soviet Union.

Even after nearly 60 years, the core of French diplomacy remains the same. Macron also inherits de Gaulle’s approach and he dislikes being dominated by the US.

France is the only European Union member state that has territories in the Indo-Pacific. It has stationed about 3,000 troops in its overseas territories of New Caledonia and Polynesia. 

In 2018, France became the first EU country to establish its own national Indo-Pacific strategy. The strategy has been revised, and the current document is 78 pages long. It includes India and Japan as partner countries, with only five or six references to the US. While security frameworks led by the US are being developed, France seems to be intentionally distancing itself.

China Picks France

In the Indo-Pacific region,first the Quad was formed by Japan, the US, India, and Australia. It was followed by the establishment of AUKUS by the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. Cooperation between Japan, the US, and South Korea is also progressing. That follows the recent visit of President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea to Japan. 

In order to counter China’s hegemony, a multiple encirclement by the democratic countries is being formed.

France participates in joint military exercises but does not seek to join US-led frameworks. France emphasizes strategic autonomy for both France and the EU. Yet it is also skeptical about NATO‘s involvement in Asia.

For China, which aims to divide the West, there may be no easier country to handle than France. China’s English-language newspaper China Daily praised France as a responsible player in multilateralism ahead of Macron’s visit.

Antoine Bondaz, a researcher at the French think tank Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), says “France should not emphasize its differences with the United States too much. It will play into China’s hands.”

Bondaz was invited to a meeting at the Élysée Palace as a China expert before the president’s visit to China. He lamented that Macron’s diplomacy was being carried out by a small group of close aides and that dissenting opinions were not being accepted. In fact, he joked, if Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida or Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi were to tell him they see that as a bit of a problem, the president might change his mind.

Source: Japan Forward