By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
For the first time since his presidential inauguration French President Emanuel Macron made an official three day State visit to China. The visit marks a new phase in Chinese – French and hopefully also European – Chinese relations, opening a wider perspective for a more balanced cooperation. The President made clear that France wants to construct a strategic partnership with China and cooperate with China on several common projects that will shape the future of the 21st century.
Both Presidents Xi Jinping and Macron after meeting the press at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, marked the first completion of a European pressurized water reactor (EPR in Taishan) at a ceremony and witnessed the signing of documents for 20 bilateral cooperative projects. This includes as “China Daily” reported a memorandum of commercial agreement between the French firm AREVA and the China National Nuclear cooperation (CNNC) on a nuclear waste reprocessing plant to become operational 2018. The Chinese treatment –recycling plant (800 tons capacity) will be built on the model of the La Hague and Melox plants, which are recognized for their proven technologies, highest standards of safety and security, and industrial performance. Agreements with Airbus on expanding cooperation in the aeronautics field were also signed. During the talks with Macron Chinese President Xi said that the two countries should deepen efforts in their traditional fields of cooperation, including nuclear energy and aerospace. Beijing and Paris should also nurture a few highlights for growth such as agriculture, medical care and sustainable development, Xi said.
Macron echoed Xi’s call on reinforcing bilateral cooperation within the framework of building the “One Belt One Road” project, underlining that such cooperation is of great strategic significance. Paris looks to boost communication and dialogue at a high level and in various fields during his visit, reinforce cooperation in key areas such as aerospace and nuclear power and introduce a new chapter of bilateral cooperation, Macron said.
Earlier in the day in a speech in Xi’an, the eastern starting point of the ancient Silk Road, Macron called in a speech for more balanced and reciprocal trade ties with China “on behalf of the members of the European Union.” “I came here to tell China may determination to get the Europe-China partnership into the 21st century,” he said. “I want us to define together the rules of a balanced relationship in which everyone will win. He said that the ancient silk roads were never only Chinese and that the new roads cannot go only one way. “They cannot be the roads of a new hegemony that will put the countries that they traverse on a vassal state,” Macron stated. “Multilateralism means balanced cooperation.”
In an article written by Charlotte Gao (diplomat.com) reference was made to an exclusive interview which Macron had given to China org.cn and in which he stated, “I’m aware of the mutual fascination that ties China to Europe, woven along the ancient silk routes that connected Xi’an to the eastern Mediterranean. Our relationship is ancient in time and in my opinion is based on civilization, in the sense that France and China are two countries with very different cultures but which both have a universal calling. They are two countries that have always been eager, across distances, to meet and recognize each other. It’s for all these reasons that I wanted to start may state visit in Xi’an – it’s a way to experience ancient China.” As the commentator observed, it seemed that Macron has done his research.
Macron: France‘s admiration for the history of China
Reading the French president’s speech delivered at the Daminggong Palace in the ancient city Xi’an one must say, that Macron carefully prepared his words. The 1 hour 13 minutes long speech was poetic and aimed at showing to China that France has always very much admired the history, poetry and art of war of China which many centuries ago was transmitted to France and Europe by Marco Polo. The man who discovered the treasures of an unknown civilization that left its traces in the ancient silk roads, to which today as Macron stated, a new significance and a “new grammar” is given. Macron characterized China as “a country of inventors and engineers who relentlessly invent the future.” He also spoke about the “China of the warriors” whose famous terracotta statues he had visited in the ancient city Xi’an, which -as he put it- are nourished by the symbols and the respect for the figure of the Chinese soldier, around which the Chinese art of war was constructed. An art which “culminated in the writings of SunTzu (544 BC – 496 BC), who became known in Europe since the 18th century and who is still taught at military schools today.” We share the same respect towards the soldier. He spoke about the fact that during World War I thousands of Chinese supported France – working in mines, factories, trenches and in hospitals, many of whom stayed and founded families which formed Chinese diaspora. But he also spoke about the poets and thinkers in Chinese history and about the Jesuit mission in China 450 years ago.
What he underlined in particular was the role of Sinology which originated in France and he recalled the immense contribution made by French sinologists such as D. Chavannes (1894-1979), Marcel Granet (1884-1940), Francois Julien (1951), Henri Maspero (1883-1945) etc. Historians in Europe during the 19th century wanted to get a better understanding of China would refer to the French Sinology. He spoke also about the longstanding friendship between the two countries by making reference to French General Charles de Gaulle who in the year 1964 decided to recognize the Peoples Republic of China, calling this a “choice of reason”.
Macron stressed that France and China “share very profoundly a common sense of world history and its people.“ We are not just two nations but two civilizations, two people who since centuries follow in all our domains a certain “conception of man. We have a common destiny” which is based on the notion of: Intelligence, Justice and Equilibrium. In the world of today and tomorrow “intelligence” is key he said. Having pointed out that China within decades had been able to become one of the leading world powers and bring 700 Million people out of poverty, he emphasized that China has very much understood the concept of intelligence given that today they “educate 37 million students in the universities, as well as future generations of developing countries .China makes its culture radiate through a network of Confucius Institutes (…) while it is also massively investing in new technologies, in the digitalization and artificial intelligence.”
Also France is a power in terms of digital science, energy transformation, research, education, innovative future industries, a great financial place, a living and radiating culture which has to contribute a lot to the world, he stated. He spoke about several projects that are planned from the side of France for the near future in the field of culture including an exhibition at the Guimet Museum about the treasures of the HAN dynasty and he expressed the desire that there be “common work” on several cultural projects, which are dedicated to the ancient China and the China of today. He also emphasized that the exchange between universities and sciences be accelerated and that a “new partnership is founded in the field of innovation, digital and technologies. The academic and scientific partnership must be at the heart of this strategic partnership that we want to build.”
“Not repeat our mistakes in Africa”
In terms of the second notion “justice” Macron stated that “one of the primary concerns and tasks which China and France have in common is their “the fight against inequality.” This fight for “social justice” would be the center of the political project of China, France and Europe. “I’m thinking about an area in which China has invested a lot during the last years in the field of infrastructure, raw materials and this with a formidable financial force de frappe which Europeans don’t have. At the same time France has a historical and cultural knowledge about Africa.” He suggested that in respect to Africa both countries should “develop projects which are really useful for the growth of the continent “and that this should imply not to repeat the errors of the past like for example Frances experience with “unilateral imperialism” in Africa which led to the worst. He also spoke about the “climate injustice” and welcomed that China had signed the Paris agreement and has become prime investor in renewable energies. Macron suggested a new phase of Franco- Chinese partnership to relaunch the climate protection battle and received great applause when he said in Mandarin “Make our planet great again” (which parodied Trumps “Make America great again”).
The third pillar in the common fight of China and France is based on the notion of “Balance and equilibrium.” Concretely Macron called for a more “balanced world order.” In view of the big challenges which the world is facing- such as terrorism, climate change, nuclear proliferation, North Korea, he urged that it’s necessary not to look for military solutions but for solutions which aim at developing civil society. He urged at the same time that we should learn from the mistakes which were made in Iraq and Libya and that the two countries should engage to find solutions in Syria and Libya. “In our world France and China define themselves as powers of multilateralism. “
The French President outlined his vision of a solid European-China partnership, that would enter into the 21st century so that a “new Grammar can be inscribed which we must define together.” He assured his audience that “Europe will engage in this strategy since it is conscious of its role and place in this beginning century.” “Europe is back again,” Macron stated and promised that Europe will work on a ten to fifteen years perspective so as to transform the continent into a unified, sovereign and democratic continent that has the scientific and economic power to dialogue with the US and China. He underlined that with the German Chancellor Merkel and other European leaders France was working on that project and that France wants to be the motor and mediator for a dialogue and a new partnership with China in the 21st century.
Concretely this means cooperation in the Project One Belt – One Road. Macron expressed the hope that Europe participates in this Project and made clear that the silk roads “can’t be roads of a new hegemony that will put the countries that they traverse in a vassal state”. These roads are always shared and can’t be just “one way” roads. There must be a back and forth. The infrastructural road building programs, combined with railway infrastructure, airport, maritime roads along the Silk Road, could according to Macron. create new perspectives for transport, for water management and for the economy. The projects would reinforce the link between Europa and Asia, and go further to the Mideast and Africa. He made clear that the new Silk Road project also means a Cultural Silk road, a “bridge which transmits cultural exchange, education and science.”