French President Emmanuel Macron seeks to maintain France’s economic interests while avoiding confrontation with China over the ongoing war in Ukraine. Macron, accompanied by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for a three-day state visit aimed at reassuring China that European markets will remain open to Chinese exports in exchange for cooperation on the war in Ukraine.
The Élysée is keen to remain at the center of settling the conflict in Ukraine. Since the new Russian aggression of February 2022, Ukraine has become the epicenter of the transformation of international relations dominated by the Washington-Beijing-Moscow triangle.
Macron hopes to convince Xi Jinping to work toward peace in Ukraine, but Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Moscow has put that prospect at risk. China’s policy is not so much to end the war as to reshuffle the cards of the international order to its advantage. Macron wants to encourage Xi Jinping not to further support Vladimir Putin by delivering arms to him, although China’s nuclear arsenal continues to grow and could reach 1,000 warheads by 2030.
Despite this, Macron wants to bet on Beijing and preserve dialogue with China to avoid confrontation. Ursula von der Leyen, who set out the terms of the dialogue that she believes the EU-27 can initiate with China, warns that “the way China will act” in the face of the war in Ukraine will be “a determining factor for the future.” Macron aims to “be the bearer of a unified European position,” an ambition symbolized by the presence of Ursula von der Leyen at his side.
In addition to preserving France’s economic interests, Macron also aims to play the card of cultural diplomacy during his visit to China. In the delegation is the director Jean-Jacques Annaud, whose film on the fire of Notre-Dame is to be released soon in China. Climate issues, a subject on which Paris and Beijing are growing closer, may also serve as common ground. For her part, the President of the European Commission could discuss the global agreement on investments, which has been under discussion for ten years.
France wants to increase its agribusiness, civil nuclear, and aeronautics exports to reduce its trade deficit. China is Europe’s second-largest trading partner after the United States, and the two economies exchanged 795 billion euros of goods and services in 2021. Macron wants to carry a strong ambition in terms of market access and fair competition conditions.
It is clear that the shock of the Sino-Russian partnership has upset French strategic software, and Paris fears that Europe will be dragged, unwillingly, into a confrontation between China and the United States. However, it is impossible for France not to take into account the consequences of this rapprochement on European security, in Africa, in the Middle East, and in the Indo-Pacific, where Beijing exerts direct and indirect pressure on the Drom-COM in the South Pacific and on certain parts of its exclusive economic zone. A crisis in the Taiwan Strait would also have massive consequences for the interests of France and the European Union.
Macron’s three-day state visit to China aims to preserve France’s economic interests while avoiding a confrontation with Beijing over the war in Ukraine. Macron hopes to take advantage of this visit to convince Xi Jinping to work with him to move toward peace. Although trade is seen as a means of ensuring that mutual economic interests prevail, France remains vigilant about possible arms deliveries from China to Russia.