Institut Montaigne and the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) are co-hosting on April 11-12th a closed-doors Franco-German workshop on China policy, "Promoting a European China policy". Mathieu Duchâtel, Director of Institut Montaigne’s Asia Program, and Mikko Huotari, Deputy Director of MERICS, analyze and compare the current China policies of France and Germany. To what extent do France and Germany converge, what are the limits of this convergence on China policy, and can it be translated into a more united European approach?
What are the current priority issues on the China policy agenda of Germany and France? How have these priorities changed?
The Gaullist moment of France’s China policy is clearly far behind us. Today, there are two priorities in France’s China policy. First, a rebalance in economic ties with our largest source of trade deficit (29.2 billion EUR in 2018), and a country with which the lack of reciprocal market access and forced technology transfers are highly problematic from a French perspective. This goal will not be reached through bilateral commercial deals only, although they matter enormously for several strategic sectors of the French economy. What is needed is a rebalance at a systemic level and therefore, realistically, only the EU provides sufficient leverage. The game is partly about bargaining with China for greater market access and better protection of intellectual property rights, partly about internal change in Europe to build better protections against Chinese state capitalism and techno-nationalism.
Second priority, France needs Chinese cooperation to preserve the multilateral system of global governance, currently under great pressure on multiple fronts. China provides rhetorical support for multilateralism, but there is a deep-rooted reluctance on the Chinese side to move beyond Beijing’s existing commitments, for example on the reform of the World Trade Organization. The track record is not entirely negative though. France values the important contribution of China in facilitating the conclusion of the Paris agreement and the negotiation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran. But, there is currently a stalemate across a wide spectrum of issues on the multilateral agenda.
At the same time, France tends to see China as a problem rather than a solution when it comes to the future of the international order, leading to an upgrading of ties with other partners. France’s reluctance to give political endorsement to the Belt and Road Initiative, the regular French naval presence in the South China Sea, the emphasis on the Indo-Pacific narrative, and the development of defense relations with Australia, India and Japan should be seen in that light.
On the surface, there have been few changes in the priorities of Germany’s China policy during the past few years:
- Deepening what is still largely seen as a beneficial bilateral economic partnership of two trading nations;
- Strengthening collaboration on a wider range of strategic issues and global challenges including climate;
- Developing a forward-looking positive agenda in new areas such as intelligent manufacturing or autonomous driving.