Macron takes the right road with China
The visiting French leader spoke of a balanced relationship with Beijing ‘in which everyone will win’, and his approach is to be welcomed
While the larger economies of Germany and Britain wrestled with domestic politics, French president Emmanuel Macron made the most of his first visit to China last week. With Angela Merkel forging a new ruling coalition and Theresa May wrestling with negotiations over Britain’s exit from the European Union, Macron seized the opportunity to stake France’s interest in the 21st century Europe-China partnership. He laid out the foundations of expanded economic and trade relations, on top of reciprocal ties in nuclear energy, aviation and high-speed rail technology, as China increasingly becomes a consumer and services society.
The importance of the bilateral relationship between the world’s second and fifth largest national economies was marked by “firsts” in the Macron visit – his first trip to Asia since his presidential election win last May and the first to China by a European leader since the 19th national congress of the Chinese Communist Party last October. But it is clouded by a US$36 billion trade surplus in China’s favour, an issue he addressed in balanced and nuanced terms, leaving a good first impression on his hosts. “I want us to define together the rules of a balanced relationship in which everyone will win,” he said. Referring to China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” to revive Silk Road trade routes, he added they were “never only Chinese “ and the new roads could not go only one way.
Business deals worth billions signed during Macron’s visit, such as the Airbus agreement to step up aircraft production in cooperation with China at its Tianjin plant, will help bridge the trade gap. The biggest potential may lie in cooperation on third-generation French nuclear power technology. France is well positioned to partner China in its plans for an increasingly nuclear-powered economy. It may not loom as large as Germany on the horizon but there are still many areas French companies can invest in. In that respect a meeting between Macron and tycoons including Alibaba’s Jack Ma and JD.com’s Richard Liu Qiangdong could help open up channels for connecting enterprises with the Chinese market.