Macron’s China Visit: New Start in the New Era

The French President Emmanuel Macron made a successful state visit to China from January 8th to 10th, 2018. The trip was of international interest and created several firsts…

Abstract: Wisdom, Justice and Balance

By Li Dan

The French President Emmanuel Macron made a successful state visit to China from January 8th to 10th, 2018. The trip was of international interest and created several firsts:

  • Macron’s first state visit in 2018 was to China;
  • China was the first Asian country to be visited since Macron was elected;
  • Macron was the first foreign head of state welcomed by China in 2018;
  • He was the first EU national leader to visit China since the 19th CPC National Congress.

Macron delivered an hour-long speech in the Daming Palace in Xi’an, visited the Forbidden City with a group of middle school students studying French in Beijing, sent a gift of a horse of the French Republican Guard to China, and visited the SOHO3Q flagship store, a shared workspace in Beijing.

All these activities gave people a fresh understanding of the nature of a “state visit”.

China attached great importance to Macron’s visit. He met twice with President Xi Jinping and the two attended several activities together over the three days. They held a news conference with Chinese and foreign journalists, issued a Joint Declaration between the People’s Republic of China and the France Republic , and witnessed the signing of dozens of cooperative agreements.

China and France Face A Changing World

Sino-French relations have a long history. Direct people-to-people communication between the two countries can be traced back to the time when Jesuits came to China in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, France has always been one of the leading western powers in developing relations with China. In 1964, led by Charles de Gaulle, France became the first western power to establish diplomatic ties with China. In the 1990s, France was again the first western country to establish a comprehensive partnership with China. Compared to the days when China and France first established diplomatic relations, and the days in 1990s after the Cold War, the current situation is one of unprecedented, profound and complex change.

The most important change is an accelerated polarization in the world, as the emerging countries represented by China are on the rise. Economically and politically, the emerging countries are playing a significant role on the international stage. For example, in the early 1990s, China’s GDP was only a quarter of that of France. But today, China’s economy is almost five times as large as France’s.

Another important change is the increasing number of international issues requiring common solutions through effective global governance. No single country can ignore major challenges such as development, environment, climate change, counter-terrorism, Internet, and refugees.

For France, a long-standing impasse between liberals and conservatives came to an end with the general election last May. With a new president and a new generation of politicians with no strong inclination either to the left or to the right, there were high expectations on the part of the French electorate that Macron would lead both the country and the European Union out of trouble.

From the Chinese perspective, the successful 19th CPC National Congress last October attracted international attention. China’s “Two Centenary Goals” are a source of inspiration, and many counties are now looking to China for wisdom and leadership.

Against this new background, and faced with both great opportunities and great challenges, the comprehensive and strategic relationship between China and France will take on greater importance.

“Make Our Planet Great Again 

In his speech, Macron vowed in Chinese to “make our planet great again” and expected to achieve deeper cooperation between China and France.

In global governance, China and France, both being permanent members of the UN Security Council, will continue to promote the multipolar process, to promote multilateralism, and to build the new model of international relations. Both countries will extend strategic cooperation on major global issues such as UN reform, building an open world economy, combating terrorism, environmental protection, and tackling climate change.

On regional issues, both sides agreed to strengthen strategic dialogue, in order to solve disputes peacefully through discussion and the application of international law, including international humanitarian laws. Regional flashpoint issues in the Middle East, Africa, and the Korean peninsula will be addressed jointly.

On the future prospects of the EU, and problems in Sino-EU relations, China firmly supports the European integration process. China will join hands with France to actively promote the implementation of the China-EU 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation , a spirit of reciprocity and mutual benefit in fields of common concern, and a stronger Sino-EU comprehensive strategic partnership.

On bilateral issues, the two heads of state reaffirmed the importance of the strategic dialogue, high-level economic and financial dialogue, and high-level people-to-people exchanges between the two countries. In addition to civil nuclear energy, aerospace and other traditional areas of cooperation, both sides will explore further cooperation in the new fields of ecological agriculture, food processing, digital technology, artificial intelligence, pension services, and etc. At the same time, France made clear its support for the Belt and Road Initiative, and the two sides will explore specific cooperation projects in line with the principle of mutual benefit.

Naming the panda “Yuan Meng” (dream that comes true in Chinese) and appealing to the Chinese

Two words summarizing the basic tone of Macron’s state visit to China should undoubtedly be “trust” and “humility”. The word “trust” appeared nine times and the word “humility” three times in Macron’s speech in the Daming Palace.

Over the 50 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries, mutual trust has waxed and waned. Macron is clearly aware of this, and therefore he emphasized the importance of “trust” in the relationship between China and France.

His emphasis on “humility” represented an acknowledgement of the past when the French used to preach to others. During this state visit, Macron was careful to repeat words such as “humility”, “dialogue”, “low profile”, “mild”, and “respect”.

Macron made elaborate preparations before he visited China. He carefully studied President Xi’s writings, the 19th CPC National Congress documents, the works of Chinese poets such as Wang Bo in the Tang dynasty, and Chinese style readings in the age of the French Enlightenment .  In a further attempt to broaden his appeal to the Chinese, Macron repeatedly mentioned during his visit that the first lady, Brigitte, had attended the naming ceremony of the Chinese panda born at the French Zoo Parc de Beauval  and become its “godmother”. In return, Macron sent a horse of the French Republican Guard as a gift to China, and named the new panda “Yuan Meng”. It appears that the French are aware that the Chinese are working hard to realize the Chinese Dream, and there will be plenty of opportunities for cooperation between China and France during the process of realizing the dream.

Macron himself used three core words to sum up his new concept of Sino-French relations: wisdom, justice and balance. “Wisdom” is shared by both China and France. “(Social) justice” is a common goal pursued by both countries, and “balance” is the basic principle behind Sino-French relations. Macron believes that these three words will lead future developments between the two countries.

All of this suggests that in his approach to the Sino-French relationship, Macron is less influenced by ideological bias and more inclined to be rational and pragmatic. He put more focus on practical interests and worked hard to become a President with some understanding of China.

At the beginning of a new era, the Sino-French relationship has got off to a new start. We have every reason to believe that with a joint effort from both sides, the Sino-French comprehensive strategic partnership will achieve sustainable, healthy, and steady development based on mutual trust and balanced benefit.



Written by Li Dan, professor of China Foreign Affairs University , and director of French Research Center 

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of China Matters

Editor: Cai Hairuo