What is happening?
1. There’s been a sudden uptick in visitors to Beijing this week. After German Chancellor Scholz, French President Macron, European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, and then German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock all visited China.
Each of them had a similar agenda
-Seeking China’s support for a resolution to the Ukraine conflict, and stressing that China must not support Russia militarily- in a 51-pt joint statement between Xi and Macron, they criticised the bombing of civilians, and according to French accounts, Xi Jinping distanced himself from “Russia’s war”. It is particularly worth watching as NATO is stepping up support of the Ukraine military ahead of a planned Spring Offensive.
-They also sought to shore up trade ties with China, which has opened up post-Covid. And made the point they don’t want to “decouple” from China, only “derisk” supply chains
-They asked President Xi Jinping to be more proactive in helping debt-ridden countries in Africa and Sri Lanka to manage their debt, and for more Chinese commitments towards Climate change
Where they really appear to have differed was on their words on Taiwan- while Von Der Leyen and Baerbock warned that any Chinese action against Taiwan would be disastrous for the world, Macron appeared to step out of line- saying Europe should stay out of the fight between what he called US agenda and Chinese overreaction, and stressed on the need for strategic autonomy and independent foreign policy.
“France is for the status quo in Taiwan, France supports the One China Policy and the search for a peaceful settlement of the situation. Europe’s position [with the US] has always been compatible with the role of ally but it is precisely here that I insist on the importance of strategic autonomy. Being allies does not mean being a vassal”, Macron said.
Macron’s words appeared to divide Europe- and NATO- as he received criticism in the US, as well as from some East European countries like Poland and Lithuania, who called for closer ties with the US, and not seeking help from China.
One of the journalists on the plane was Pierre Haski, Columnist, China expert as well as President, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). While in Paris, I spoke to him about what to make of Macrons visit and his words.
We’ve been looking at some of the statements of the French president, what do you think, according to what really was the reason for his very strong statement on Taiwan, in particular, while he was in China, where he said, France is not a vassal state of the US almost suggesting that France would not perhaps look at Taiwan in the same way as the United States was?
Well, first of all, you have to understand that France always had an independent view of the US. In 2003 for example, France did not take part in the US invasion of Iraq. And there is a kind of tradition of maintaining independence I think, in this particular context, President macrons visit to China was dictated by his view that the war in Ukraine, the longer the war in Ukraine lasts, the more Europe will become dependent on the US. And this is bad for what he calls strategic autonomy of Europe. And therefore, his trip to China was really designed to not to get China going against Russia, because he knows this is impossible, but at least get China on board to think about a way out of the Ukraine war.And Russia still think that it can hold on what it controls and maybe expand a little bit. So this is not the right time for negotiations. But what the French were trying to do is get China on board for the day when those negotiations are possible.
Do you think because there is a cynicism that this is more about Europe wanting to shore up its trade with China, post COVID?
Obviously, business with China is an important component of the relations with China, for every single country in the world nowadays, and I think France is not an exception. And probably less than for Chancellor Scholz, because Germany is far more dependent on its economic presence in China than France is. But I think, you know, there is a balance to be found. And that’s what Europe is trying to find between doing business as usual with with China, and thinking of the overall strategic balance of the world, in which China is the rising superpower, and the challenge to the Western international order
When Macron says it and often in one speech, he mentions independence and strategic autonomy several times. is he speaking out of step with the rest of Europe? Or is this essentially his vision for Europe that is shaped by others?
And at the moment, yes, he is out of step with the rest of Europe because the rest of Europe wants to keep the Americans on board. And France is probably due to its own history. And the fact that it has its own, you know, nuclear weapon, that it has a seat on the UN Security Council, it has a specific speech. Now, let’s move forward 18 months, if Donald Trump is elected in the US or if Ron DeSantis, another Republican, gets elected, maybe President Macron’s words might sound a little bit prophetic because Europe will wake up again as during the first mandate of Donald Trump as wanting to protect itself from any potential damage coming from Washington, remember that Donald Trump wanted to pull the US out of NATO. And he was prevented from doing so by his entourage by the defence establishment in the US. And therefore, you know, what might sound like, out of step today might be tomorrow’s mainstream thinking.
Given India’s position on Russia, and on Ukraine at present, where do you see India - France ties?
I think everybody in the West and not only in France was taken by surprise by the attitude of India, but also other non aligned the new non-aligned version of 2022 last year. And therefore, at the beginning, I think there was a bit of a shock. I think today, a lot of people understand why certain powers in the Global South, as we say, have taken that attitude and don’t want to be automatically aligned on the US or on anybody else, for that matter. And other cases in the world, and particularly now that President Lula has taken over in Brazil and has gone to China with a very different attitude from his predecessor, I think we can see that this is a global trend. So I think France and India still have a lot of work to do together. I think this is really the opinion of the French leadership that India is a key player in today’s world, and should not we should not stop at just this India, Russia relationship in relation with Ukraine, but say in a more global world where India is really one of the defining powers of a multipolar world.
As we had reported at The Hindu recently, PM Narendra Modi is expected to visit France this summer and President Macron will be in Delhi for the G20 summit- India is expected to really walk a tightrope between its friendships with Russia, and Europe and US.
So what should India make of Macron’s statements and the divisions in Europe?
1. To begin with- the China visits make it clear that Europe is willing to engage, as long as Asia stays out of the Ukraine war- this is a shift from last year’s position.
2. There will probably be a different kind of pressure on India- as G20 chair, to invite Ukrainian President Zelensky to speak at the G20 summit, virtually if needed. Thus far New Delhi has resisted this pressure. When Ukrainian Deputy FM Emine Dzhaparova came to Delhi last week and called for an invitation to the G20- the MEA spokesperson said India has already announced its special guests to G20 a list that doesn’t include Ukraine
3. However, Macron’s words indicate less pressure on China and India to reduce ties with Russia- during Russian Dy PM Manturov’s visit to Delhi this week, India and Russia vowed to increase trade, that has already nearly tripled since last year, and to seek new ways to pay in national currencies
4. And as Macron signals a less confrontational approach to China in the Indo-Pacific, India should prepare for a different kind of Indo-Pacific engagement with France and the EU perhaps, than it has at present with the US, Japan and Australia.
Regardless of the context, and the concerns over China, France’s push for Strategic Autonomy is one that should strike a chord in India. For years this policy has kept Indian interests and independence at a premium, and has also meant that in times of adversity, like when the West sanctioned India over nuclear tests, France has maintained its strategic partnership with India.
1. Engaging the World: Indian Foreign Policy since 1947 : Edited by Sumit Ganguly has a chapter by Jean Luc Racine – on the India -France relationship
2. Revolution by Emmanuel Macron
3. The last President of Europe: Emmanuel Macron’s Race to Revive France and Save the World by William Drozdiak
4. India’s Foreign Policy in the Post Covid World edited by Surendra Kumar has a chapter by Manjeev Singh Puri on the India-EU relationship
5. India and EU and Insider’s view Bhaswati Mukherjee
Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar
Production: Gayatri Menon and Reenu Cyriac