EU-China relations have remained strained since the EU-China Summit in April last year, which the EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell called the “dialogue of the deaf.” China’s retaliation to EU sanctions on Russia, trade measures against the single market, humanitarian issues in Hongkong and Xinjiang, and its stance on the Ukraine conflict have further complicated the two. However, despite these challenges, the EU remained committed to engaging and cooperating with China due to its crucial role in addressing global issues. The EU’s approach towards China, outlined in the “Strategic Outlook” Joint Communication from March 2019, remains relevant.
In recent months, Beijing has welcomed many European dignitaries. Last November, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Beijing following the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, followed by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to China on March 31st this year. The recent visit of French President Emmanuel Macron, escorted by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, to China, from April 5th -7th, however, has ruffled feathers of a possible realignment of the EU towards Beijing.
Since assuming office, French President Emmanuel Macron has prioritized bolstering economic and cultural ties with China. Macron deemed the economic ties with Beijing crucial for the country’s economic progress and global impact. During Macron’s first official visit to China in 2018, the Two countries signed multiple agreements regarding nuclear energy, agriculture, and tourism. Macron also urged China to address market access and trade imbalance issues. Despite challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic and France’s initial stance on China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Sino-French economic ties became stronger. In 2019, China became the biggest foreign investor in France, and the two countries are cooperating in various avenues, such as intellectual property rights, green finance, and civil aviation.
France and China are major global trade players and significant export markets for each other. In 2021, trade volumes between the two countries reached an all-time high.
However, the total value of goods traded between China and France in 2022 was US$81.33 billion, a decrease of 4.4 percent compared to the same period in 2021, with a reduction of US$3.84 billion.
During his recent visit to China, French President Emmanuel Macron emphasized the importance of Western engagement with China to prevent further tensions and divisions among global powers. The mediation of the Ukraine war has remained a significant feature of Macron’s visit as he stressed the need to end the crisis and return to the negotiating table.
Macron was deeply impressed with China’s emerging role as a global mediator after Beijing brokered the Saudi-Iran deal and expressed that Beijing should also take a central role in resolving the Ukraine crisis.
President Xi has also expressed interest in mediating the Ukrainian conflict. As part of this commitment, both nations have pledged to assist in resolving the ongoing conflict in Ukraine through dialogue. They also called on the international community to address the various spillover effects of the crisis, such as those in food, energy, finance, transportation, and other areas, and to minimize its negative impact, particularly on developing countries.
In a joint statement, both countries have embarked on a new level of Sino-French ties by reinforcing political dialogue and promoting mutual political confidence, endorsing global security and stability, promoting economic interactions, encouraging people-to-people exchanges, and proclaiming a joint response to global challenges.
France and China have emphasized the significance of maintaining high-level contacts and dialogues to advance bilateral cooperation.
The leadership from France and China agreed to continue their annual meetings and to hold another session of their strategic dialogues, economic and financial dialogues, and people-to-people exchanges by the end of the year.
They have reiterated their dedication to creating a comprehensive strategic partnership built on mutual respect for territorial integrity, sovereignty, and critical interests. Furthermore, they have concurred to intensify talks on strategic matters and strengthen their mutual comprehension of international and regional security concerns.
France and China have also accentuated their support for strengthening the international multilateral system under the patronage of the United Nations. They have confirmed their commitment to promoting the three pillars of the Treaty on Nuclear Non-Proliferation in a balanced manner. The two countries condemned any military attack on nuclear power plants or other peaceful nuclear facilities. They backed the International Atomic Energy Agency’s efforts to maintain their safety and security. Furthermore, they agreed to retain their discussions on strategic and cyber issues, affirmed their commitment to finding a political and diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue of Iran, and agreed to continue close consultations on the situation in the Korean Peninsula.
In line with their commitment to work together to address global challenges, both countries are dedicated to ensuring global food supply chain stability, supporting countries hardest hit by the food crisis, and promoting sustainable food systems. They also endorsed a rules-based, WTO-centered multilateral trading system. They pledged to cooperate to help to develop and access financing to developing countries to accelerate their energy and climate transition. Additionally, they agreed to enhance their cooperation within the G20 and assist in implementing the Common Framework for Debt Treatments, embraced by Paris Club and the G20. By calling for increased action in channeling special drawing rights (SDR), both committed to the fight against climate change, biodiversity loss, and land degradation.
French President Emmanuel Macron has emphasized the need for Europe to reduce its reliance on the United States and to develop its strategic autonomy. His statement that Europe should not blindly follow the US and avoid becoming involved in external crises, likely referencing Taiwan, has led some to accuse him of undermining the trans-Atlantic stance against China. However, Macron clarified that France still supports the current status quo in Taiwan. He called for the EU to implement a “strategic autonomy” policy and become a “third pole” alongside China and the US, emphasizing that Europe must avoid becoming embroiled in its crises.
To recap, while France’s focus on strengthening economic ties with China could trigger a possible geopolitical realignment within the EU regarding its China policy, it remains contingent upon the peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis that has remained the sticking point of the recent visit.
The EU’s stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its differences with China over various issues have created a complex and challenging relationship that requires careful navigation.
The writer works as a researcher with China-Pakistan Study Centre at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. She also writes for different media outlets in Pakistan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org