Key points

For the French President, dialogue with China can only occur on a European level. This is in line with the claims he made during his campaign.

Under these circumstances, France defended the European Council’s screening of foreign investments. Progress should be made by Spring.

Efforts to find a common ground, especially regarding economic issues, seem to have left the human rights problem behind.

Key dates

8 january 2018 - 10 january 2018

Emmanuel Macron visits the People's Republic of China

january 2018

Campaign promises

China was mentioned on three occasions in candidate Macron’s program:

  • China is one of the countries that France cannot confront on its own.
  • There is a necessity to “keep European public markets for companies that locate at least half of their production in Europe” (Emmanuel Macron’s program for Europe, March 2017);
  • Finally, “we want a control mechanism for foreign investments in Europe in order to preserve our strategic interests”. (idem)

However, in his book Revolution (Scribe Publications Pty Ltd., 2017), Emmanuel Macron writes: “far from being considered a peril, China can represent an opportunity, if we provide ourselves with the means to seize it”.

Overview

During the European Council on 22-23 June 2017, France supported the screening of foreign investments, which led to the scheduling of a debate session for the European Council’s Spring session in 2018.

New trade defence measures are also currently being negotiated.

Emmanuel Macron displayed a clearly European approach during his visit to China in January 2018. The retractions of the US administration (trade barriers, withdrawal from the Paris Agreement…) encouraged French and Chinese leaders to find a common ground for multilateral action.

If France often speaks of the freedom to navigate on the South China Sea, its willingness to defend human rights in China seems to have weakened, as opposed to that of its German or British neighbors.

Analysis

China is both an inevitable partner on the international stage (UN, international order, climate change) and a competitor (due to its commercial power and the rise of its investments in Africa). It might even be an adversary, given its political system and its strategic use of international law.

China negotiates more with the US than with the EU. Under these circumstances, and in the name of “efficiency”, Emmanuel Macron has kept silent on some of the elements of the speech he delivered last Summer at the Conference of Ambassadors, such as: “Our diplomatic and economic relations with Russia, Turkey and China will never justify that we remain silent on human rights issues” (29 August 2017). The engagement of the French Government’s policy towards China within the European framework has never been so vigorous. And its strategic cooperation with India has been strengthened (trip on February 2018).

And now?

France must push for the adoption and finalization of new trade defence tools, as well as for the screening of investments.

It must promote a more efficient cooperation amongst Europeans regarding these very sensitive topics, in order to bring China to acknowledge that all its financial leverages and investments (in Europe and in the new “Silk Roads”) cannot ignore international laws (transparency, public markets).

It will also be necessary to persuade China that the credibility of the multilateral commitment it claims requires a greater contribution to humanitarian action and particularly to the refugee crisis.

Finally, France must continuously support efforts to rebalance relations in the Asian-Pacific region, while also remaining open to future Chinese contributions to the global order (climate, sustainable development, humanitarian support).