MACRON CAUGHT IN XI’S TRAP TO DECOUPLE EUROPE FROM AMERICA
The basic principle of China’s military strategy calls for dividing enemy forces, reflecting Sun Tzu’s thoughts on war. China has long plotted to decouple Japan and Europe from the US. This time around, French President Emmanuel Macron fell smack into this trap; or, put differently, he readily threw himself into the fire.
Macron paid a state visit to China April 5-7 accompanied by President of the European Commission Ursule von der Leyen. The contrast between their postures toward China could not have been more vivid. Macron headed a delegation of some 50 French business leaders. China, which had every reason to entertain Macro and his entourage as it aims to decouple Europe from the US, hosted two state dinners in a row, which is very unsual, and purchased a stunning volume of French products. The two nations signed contracts totaling $15 billion during Macron’s visit. Among other things, Airbus received a $US 20 billion order for 160 planes from state-backed China Aviation Supplies Holding. The state-controlled power group EDF will also launch a joint venture offshore wind business, and Renault SA will revive its business by forming a hybrid vehicle joint venture. French firms will also participate in partnerships in such other fields as nuclear power generation, aerospace, and desalination. Filling out Macron’s desires, Xi Jinping additionally agreed to purchase cosmetics, financial instruments, and agricultural products, including pork.
Basking in his big welcome, Macron told his host: “I know I can count on you to bring Russia to its senses and everyone to the negotiating table.”
A French diplomat who briefed journalists following the meeting quoted Macron as pressing Xi “not to deliver anything to Russia that would be used for its war against Ukraine.” But neither leader referred to this when they stood before TV cameras during a joint press conference.
Xi allegedly failed to criticize Russia or show a willingness to approach Vladimir Putin about negotiating an end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which he refused to call a war. Xi did reportedly tell Macron that he “is ready” to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “at the right moment.”
Macron’s visit to Beijing this time around served the economic interests of France somewhat, but apparently did little to contribute to international peace and stability.
“Macron’s China trip is a fool’s errand,” wrote respected Washington-based China expert J. Alex Tarquinoi, noting that Nadège Rolland, another prominent China hand, told him: “This whole trip has a little bit of a Back to the Future feel to me.” Rolland is with the National Bureau of Asian Research, an independent research institute with offices in the US capital and Seattle.
“At a time when many Western leaders are talking about diversifying their economic interests away from China in managing their economy,” Rolland observed, “Macron is using economic engagement and asking China to help with regards to Russia and Ukraine.” Macron’s efforts in this regard are ill-timed, according to Rolland.
Von der Leyen, whom Macron asked to accompany him to Beijing, took a posture toward China sharply contrasting Macron’s. Preceding her China visit, she delivered an address at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Brussels on March 30.
Referring to Xi’s visit to Moscow March 20-22, she noted: “Far from being put off by the atrocious and illegal invasion of Ukraine, President Xi is maintaining his ‘no-limits friendship’ with Putin.” She further quoted Xi as telling Putin:
“Right now, there are changes, the likes of which we have not seen for 100 years. And we are the ones driving these changes together.”
These were Xi’s parting words to Putin as he walked his guest to the steps outside the Kremlin after their final rounds of talks, said Von de Leyen.
In these words, one senses Xi’s tacit approval of Russia having invaded Ukraine and his determination to collaborate with Russia in further changing the existing world order.
Expressing solidarity with “you and all other individuals and institutions who have been unfairly sanctioned by the Chinese government,” Von der Leyen pointed out three marked changes in China under Xi:
1) China has now turned the page on the era of ‘reform and opening’ and is moving into a new era of security and control; 2) the imperative for security and control now trumps the logic of free markets and open trade; and 3) the Chinese Communist Party’s clear goal is a systemic change of the international order with China at its center.
This apt observation reflecting the changing tide of world and Chinese history was mirrored in her reminder to Xi to not provide Russia with any military equipment “directly or indirectly…Arming the aggressor would be against international law and it would severely damage our relations.”
Nikai Cannot Be a Japanese Macron
Despite her critical views of China, Von der Leyen does not favor Europe’s decoupling from China and proposes a “de-risking” instead, as she believes it would be virtually impossible for Europe to sever its trade relations with China. But she argues for reducing Europe’s dependence on China in critical areas and stresses the importance for European nations banding together afresh.
Macron, whose conciliatory posture toward China struck a sharp contrast to Von der Leyen’s throughout their visit, saw his popularity fall significantly following his Beijing visit. In interviews with French media outlets back in Paris, he was asked if China’s hostile posture toward the US over outstanding issues, including Taiwan, would make Europe a pawn between the two big powers.
Macron told the Les Echos financial daily: “Do we [Europeans] have an interest in speeding up on the subject of Taiwan? No. The worst of things would be to think that we Europeans must be followers on this subject and adapt ourselves to an American rhythm and a Chinese overreaction…It would be ‘a trap for Europe’ …to get caught up in crises ‘that are not ours.’”
Macron’s remarks drew harsh reactions in the US, with Republican Senator Marco Rubio fuming in a social media post:
“If, in fact, Macron speaks for all of Europe, and their position now is they’re not going to pick sides between the U.S. and China over Taiwan; maybe we shouldn’t be picking sides either. Maybe, we should basically say we are going to focus on Taiwan and the threats that China poses, and you guys handle Ukraine and Europe.”
Xi must be smiling with great satisfaction now. What he must be seeing is a small crack between the US and Europe, which may well deepen going forward. Xi also knows the US Republican Party may be more restrictive than the Democratic Party in terms of aid to Ukraine. Distrust of Macron on the part of Rubio, an influential Republican, could therefore negatively affect America’s continued assistance program for Ukraine—exactly what China and Russia badly want.
Macron’s mistaken approach to China must be a lesson for Japan. Toshihiro Nikai, a pro-China veteran lawmaker with the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party, will soon assume the presidency of the Japan-China Parliamentarians’ Union. Nikai cannot afford to be a Japanese Macron. Neither can Japan fail to continue to commit its unwavering support to Taiwan.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,045 in the April 21, 2023 issue of The Weekly Shincho)