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Marine Le Pen, French National Front political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, attends a political rally in Chateauroux, France. Photo: Reuters

How could a win by far-right French candidate Marine Le Pen cost China?

China’s ambassador to Germany looks at neighbour with trepidation

China is concerned about the possible impact on the integration of the European Union and Beijing’s holdings of euro bonds as the nation watches the French presidential election campaign, a senior Chinese diplomat said.

The agenda of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, in which she has promised to push France to leave the EU and drop the euro, has created uncertainties over whether the continent can remain united, said Shi Mingde, China’s ambassador to Germany.

“The overall global situation is unforeseeable and Europe is unpredictable,” Shi said on the sidelines of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on Friday. “2017 will be the year to determine the fate for Europe.”

Chinese officials seldom comment on other country’s elections. The rarity of the statement indicates Beijing’s growing concern.

The possibility of disintegration of the euro zone has heightened following Britain’s vote to leave the EU last June, Shi said. The election of President Donald Trump in the United States, and upcoming elections in France, Holland, Italy and Germany, have added to concerns that rising populism may shake the foundation of the 28-member EU bloc.

China's envoy to Germany Shi Mingde. Photo: Handout

“[The possibility of the disintegration of the euro zone] was almost non-existent. But we cannot rule out such a possibility now,” he said. “If France really leaves the euro zone, the anchor roles of France and Germany in stabilising theb EU would be in trouble.”

Zhai Jun, Chinese ambassador to France, said on the sidelines of the CPPCC on Saturday that the situation in Europe might face significant changes if Le Pen won the election because of her opposition to the EU and euro.

“No matter who wins the election, we are prepared. We have prepared different scenarios. We will continue our work no matter who wins,” he said.

But Zhai said the relationship between China and France would not be significantly affected by the election because France highly valued bilateral cooperation.

“All political forces in France see the relationship with China as important. The relationship between China and France will not be significantly affected no matter which party wins the election,” he said.

A Chinese guard stands watch at the Delegation of the European Union to China in Beijing. Photo: Reuters

The EU is one of China’s largest trade markets. In the wake of the global financial crisis, especially the European sovereign debt crisis, China has continued to buy European sovereign bonds, including from Greece, Portugal and Hungary, to show Beijing’s support of the euro and to counter the influence of the dollar .

Economists say that euro-denominated assets accountfor one-third of China’s foreign exchange reserves. An unstable euro would therefore create risks to Beijing’s ability to use its reserves to buffer external shocks.

“The risks of our holdings of European debts have increased,” Shi said. “We purchased euro bonds because we hope the euro will stand firm, EU integration can move forward and its economy continue to recover. We want to see a multipolarized world, both in economy and finance.”

“European governments and people are facing the problem, to stay together or to separate. Populism is on the rise.”

Foreign exchange strategists have warned that political uncertainty in Europe would outweigh Trump’s policy as the biggest threat to the global financial market this year.

In a sign that Beijing is hoping the EU would stay integrated, Premier Li Keqiang told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call in January that closer cooperation between the two countries is needed to promote free trade and investment to “send stable and expectable signals to the market and maintain existing global system and order”, Xinhua reported.

“We hope Europe could become stronger”, Shi said, “and we hope the euro would stand firm.”

“Every crisis they met since 1952, countries in the bloc were able to turn problems into the impetus to further integration of the European Union. But whether they can weather the crisis this time, especially after the Brexit, it is really hard to tell,” said Shi.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: China watching French election with close eye on euro bonds, EU integrityChina watching French election with close eye