Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 19 April 2023

 Macron should have stayed home

French President Emmanuel Macron might have thought he could escape turmoil at home and burnish his credentials as a global statesman by making a high-level state visit to China this month. Instead, he exposed disunity in Europe over Beijing, he handed Chinese President Xi Jinping a propaganda coup, and, for good measure, he threw Taiwan under the bus by suggesting Europeans should not follow the United States in defending the island in the event of a Chinese invasion.
That’s a lot of damage from a three-day trip.
Mr. Macron’s stated intention for making the trip was laudable — to try to urge Mr. Xi to use his leverage with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his atrocious war in Ukraine. “We, Europeans, would be mistaken to let Russia be the only European nation speaking to China,” he said on arriving in Beijing. But the presence of a planeload of business leaders accompanying Mr. Macron underscored how the visit was always as much about signing commercial deals as coaxing Mr. Xi to help end the war.

Deals were signed, some $15 billion worth, for civilian nuclear energy, wind power, cosmetics, Airbus jets, poultry, beef and pork, among others. But Mr. Macron went further than the normal commercial agreements. After being feted with a red-carpet welcome, cannons firing, banquets and a no-necktie walk with Mr. Xi around the picturesque Pine Garden in Guangzhou with a chat over tea, the two presidents signed a 51-point joint declaration that mentioned only a vague goal to “support all efforts to restore peace in Ukraine.” Nothing condemning Russia’s clear aggression, and no mention of China using its leverage.
It gets worse. In the agreement billed as France’s new “global strategic partnership with China,” Mr. Macron and Mr. Xi agreed to “deepen exchanges” between the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theater and the French military units in the Pacific. And at a time of U.S. and European anxiety about high-tech exports to China, Mr. Macron instead agreed to “the fair and non-discriminatory treatment of licence applications from Chinese companies.”
Mr. Macron largely seemed to adopt all of the Chinese talking points about the emergence of a new “multipolar” world and the end of a “Cold War mentality.”
Mr. Macron saved his biggest gaffe for the flight home, telling Politico and Les Echos aboard his plane that, when it comes to Taiwan, Europe needed to avoid becoming “America’s followers” and getting “caught up in crises that are not ours.” The outcry was predictably swift, in the United States, across Europe and, of course, in Taiwan.
If there was any doubt about how this trip became a triumph for Mr. Xi, just look at the glowing stories and headlines in some of China’s state-run media. “Macron’s visit to China seen to boost ties,” said one headline in the China Daily newspaper. Another headline on an opinion piece said, “Macron sets good example with visit.” Or take the nationalist tabloid Global Times, which crowed, “Macron broke U.S.’ calculation to contain China.”
U.S. and European diplomats will be left dealing with the fallout from this disastrous trip, not least in the extent to which it undermined deterrence of Chinese aggression in Taiwan, a boisterous democracy that the West should seek to protect. It would have been better for Mr. Macron to stay and deal with the problems at home instead of creating a new mess overseas.

No comments:

Post a Comment