China-France relationship after Macron's victory: views from Beijing
Macron's re-election mean stability and certainty, something Beijing favors.
After months of suspense, Emmanuel Macron is elected to a second term in office. On Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent him a congratulatory message, hoping that the bilateral relationship would further develop during Macron’s second term.
For this newsletter, your host approached several Chinese scholars for their take on Macron’s re-election, what it means for Europe, and the China-France relationship.
Stability and certainty are the key results brought about by the election.
If China were to make a comparison, a Macron presidency would mean a more predictable China-France relationship.
The election may mark the transition from a Germany-led Europe to a France-led Europe.
Cui Hongjian 崔洪建
Director, the Department for European Studies, CIIS
I observed the French presidential election from two dimensions.
The first is the political landscape in France. After the last presidential election, a question was discussed in our circle about whether a new political landscape had formed. After five years of observation and this year’s election, one can say that the new political landscape has indeed taken form and is here to stay.
New left, and right wings have emerged in France, while the traditional left and right wings have been wiped out with little chance of staging a comeback. Macron and Le Pen are leading the new left and right wings. Where it gets tricky is while Macron has tried to position himself in the center, how long can he maintain this middle ground? I think Macron will edge to the left over time. But the left is different from the traditional left because they have no market in France. The more extreme left-wing, led by Melenchon, is gaining support.
The second dimension is that while this election took place at a relatively unique point when the Russian-Ukrainian conflict was raging, and France is serving as the president of the Council of the European Union, they had little sway over the race.
This showed that French voters have become more inward-looking since five years ago. The election was dominated by domestic policy. Even when Le Pen raised the issue of purchasing power, which seems to be related to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, it still reflects the fact that the French people are more concerned about their own personal interests over security, France’s surrounding, and foreign policy, which are more concerns for the elite. So from this aspect, it can be seen that the overall public opinion in France is now more and more conservative and inward-looking.
As for France’s position in the EU and Europe after Macron’s victory, I think it will stabilize for the time being. The result of France’s presidential election has never been so consequential for the future of the EU, that’s because as a key figure of the right in France, Le Pen’s view on the EU is more extreme. That’s why we see that not just after the vote, but before the vote, some European countries, especially those that welcome an integrated Europe, were eager to sway the race in Macron’s favor. They know that if Le Pen comes to power, it would deal a blow to the integration of Europe and existing EU structures. When Macron beat Le Pen, many capitals in Europe are likely relieved, as the crisis has been postponed for at least 5 more years. It’s hard to say what will happen next time around.
The next 5 years may give Macron another opportunity, that is he must prove that Le Pen’s path is a dead end. Le Pen has made her position appealing in that she pits the interests of France against the interests of Europe. She believes that if the interests of Europe are advanced, then the interests of France will be sacrificed. This kind of argument is based on a black-and-white view of complex issues and is therefore attractive to those who do not possess professional political knowledge, nor an understanding of the policies and workings of the EU. So the next test for Macron is whether he can persuade the French public that the interest of the EU and France are aligned.
I think in this way, France or Macron's importance to European politics will be further enhanced in the next 5 years. However, if more and more people buy into Le Pen’s logic, Macron’s approach may lose luster in the next presidential election.
For the China-France relationship, I think Macron’s victory sends out a signal of stability. After 5 years in office, Macron should have gained a solid understanding of the bilateral relationship and the interest in mutual cooperation. Under his watch, Beijing and Paris have had a smooth relationship. Of course, he is now more and more subject to some circumstances when dealing with Sino-French relations, including the entire European view of China, and he will also be subject to the pressure of the entire Western camp, for example, from the United States or from the Sino-American competition.
As to the question of which candidate did Beijing prefer, China has a position of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, so China generally does not express its preference. China is more focused on the overall interest of bilateral cooperation rather than individual candidates. Of course, candidates can alter policies, especially when the two candidates are so ideologically different. But I think China is still confident about the structural relationship between China and France. The confidence lies in the fact that if France truly wants to develop itself, cooperation with China is inevitable, regardless of who is the president. So in this sense, I think China is not particularly concerned about the relationship between China and France will be completely taken off track by a single political figure.
The second point is that China's diplomacy attaches importance to tradition and rapport. In the past five years communications between Beijing and Paris, both at the highest level and working levels are effective. Both sides have come to understand each other. A new person would mean starting this process all over again and this creates uncertainties. Cooperation and projects may run into unexpected wrinkles.
On the other hand, Le Pen's policies seem to reflect some of the common features of populist parties, such as a greater emphasis on interests rather than on ideology. As a right-winger, she may even be more open to making deals. Based on this there may be some in China who prefer Le Pen, in that they may be irritated by ideological lectures, and may believe Le Pen will take a more pragmatic approach in dealing with China. I think this may not be the case because even if there are fewer ideological battles being fought between China and France under Le Pen, conflict of interest may arise, and it may not result in a net positive for China.
So in the end, the Chinese side still values stability and policy continuity. Perhaps a third expectation is a boost of the China-France relationship during Macron’s second term because he’s now had five years of understanding of China under his belt.
Victor Gao 高志凯
Vice Director, Center for China and Globalization
I think the French presidential election is of course crucial for France because it will decide the general policy and the basic direction of the country in the next five years, under the premise that the military operation in Ukraine is still ongoing, it is of great significance for peace and war, the NATO issue, the EU issue, and even the status of France in the world and the development of the international situation at many levels and many dimensions.
If President Macron is not elected this time, France will likely undergo significant changes, and these changes will certainly bring a lot of uncertainty. It seems that the French people are not willing to bear this uncertainty, and the stability of Europe is not willing to bear the impact of major uncertainty. So this re-election of President Macron is significant in terms of maintaining the relative predictability of French foreign policy.
President Macron has been in office for five years, and his foreign policy has taken shape, while that policy may have supporters and critics, it is nevertheless a mature foreign policy. The path France will take in the next 5 years is least predictable and more stable, which I think is crucial in today's world. Because if France itself undergoes major changes and loses its stability and predictability, that means that it may increase its instability and unpredictability in terms of major situations in Europe and in the international community as a whole.
After the retirement of Merkel, the new German Chancellor Scholz is still in the process of forming his style and his foreign policy. Under such circumstances, France, especially Macron's leadership in the whole of Europe is particularly important. Since the military operation in Ukraine, we can see that different countries in the EU or NATO countries have reacted with very different positions. Under such circumstances, if there is a more predictable, stable and familiar leader in the EU and NATO, who can serve as ballast and a stabilizing factor, it will have a great impact on the overall situation.
President Macron has demonstrated statesmanship in dealing with China. I think he does not have any tendency to follow the United States too closely, which is crucial to maintaining stable, constructive, and healthy development of China-France relations.
Fellow, Institute of European Studies, CASS
I observed the French presidential elections through the lens of globalist vs. anti-globalist, if we look at it from the perspective of being pro-globalization, especially economic globalization, Macron’s victory is good news for economic globalization.
Le Pen is more of a nationalist, she is against economic globalization, and advocates for France first. Le Pen's defeat is a sign that France did not produce a Trump-like figure, which is good news for globalization and the stability of the economic system as a whole.
As for France’s position in the EU, I think Macron's re-election is also good news for European integration. Macron is a pro-European president who supports European integration, and his re-election will enable the Franco-German pair to continue to lead European integration together. Macron has big ambitions and wants to be the leader of Europe.
During his first presidency, Macron spent most of his time working with Angela Merkel, who is more seasoned and managed a stronger economy. So in joint Franco-German leadership, Macron's authority trailed Merkel’s. After Merkel stepped down, Macron will have a more influential role vis-a-vis Scholz, Europe may be entering a Macron era.
Macron’s re-election will be a stabilizer for the China-France relationship and the China-Europe relationship. For the China-France relationship, Macron has built a reputation as someone who welcomes dialogue. He’s repeatedly expressed the plan to visit China once a year as president. Though the trips were interrupted by the Covid pandemic, video conferences between Macron and Xi have been conducted in its place.
France is also the most independent power within Europe, Macron's re-election will allow France's independence to rise to a European level, which is also in line with the common expectations of China and France under the trend of multipolarity in the world.
Comparing France’s two candidates, I think we have to analyze it from both security and economic perspectives. From the economic point of view, Macron is more in favor of economic globalization than Le Pen, more in favor of the global supply chain and industrial chain division of labor, hoping to maintain a stable supply chain and industrial chain, from this aspect Macron's election is more favorable for Sino-French and Sino-European relations, Le Pen is anti-globalization, and would make the Sino-French and Sino-European cooperation in the economic, trade and investment fields face greater uncertainty and difficulties.
From the security point of view, Le Pen is cold to NATO, and more importantly, she said in her election campaign that she would see a smaller role for France in NATO, which is certainly in line with China’s expectations for European independence or French independence. In this sense, if Le Pen is elected, it will give a certain resonance between China and France in the field of security and strategy.
Considering that China is a country that supports economic globalization and that trade is a cornerstone of Sino-European relations, so economy and trade are actually more important for China-European relations and Sino-French relations, so if you look at it from this perspective, the election of Macron is more important for China-Europe relations and China-France relations.
Dong Yifan 董一凡
Assistant Fellow, Institute of European Studies, CICIR
As France is the leading country of the European Union and one of the P5 of the UNSC, Macron's victory undoubtedly means certainty for the world, namely that France's course of development is predictable. And in today's challenging world, France under Macron's leadership is undoubtedly a more reliable partner for countries around the world
As many observers have predicted, if Le Pen is elected, the EU will face a more nationalistic and national interest-oriented France, which will increase the friction within the EU on issues such as immigration and climate, undermining the EU's stature on the world stage. Macron's victory means that France will continue to be a reliable partner of the EU, Germany, and other member states and that the EU will not deviate too much from its course of development.
During his first term, Macron attached great importance to the France-China relationship and the Europe-China relationship and acknowledged China’s irreplaceable role in world affairs. In his second term, President Macron is expected to continue to attach importance to and support the development of Sino-French and Sino-European relations in the face of the growing challenges, as well as common interests.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed by the experts do not necessarily reflect the views of this newsletter, nor that of Xinhua.