French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to China was a success, but more could have been achieved, experts say

08-Nov-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to China succeeded in presenting the world with a united Europe but fell short of securing major trade promises from his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, analysts said.

On Macron’s second presidential trip to China, he joined Xi in deploring US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the climate agreement led by France in 2015.

Analysts said China was ready to work with Europe on non-sensitive matters such as climate change a big issue with European voters but was lukewarm in offering concrete commitments to thornier issues such as liberalisation of trade, curbing financial aid for state-owned enterprises, and cybersecurity.

“I think this trip was as much a ‘win-win’ as it could be China wanted to show it has friends in the West, and France wanted to play a role at the EU level,” said Philippe Le Corre, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who specialises in China-EU relations.

China is France’s seventh biggest customer but its second-biggest supplier, according to the French foreign ministry. In addition, France’s largest bilateral trade deficit is with China, totalling euro 29.2 billion (US$32.3 billion) last year.

“Macron was obviously well treated by the Chinese side and he ended his visit with $15 billion worth of ‘deals’. We will see what happens to those,” said Le Corre, a former Asia adviser to the French defence ministry.

Paris and Beijing signed 40 contracts in the fields of aviation, energy and sustainable development, tourism, health, finance and digital technology. Xi said those amounted to $15 billion, while the Elysee Palace declined to give an overall estimate.

Antoine Bondaz, a research fellow at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, said: “France is more and more in an asymmetric economic relationship with China. China is our biggest trade deficit, and we export a quarter of what Germany exports.

“France has failed to rebalance trade with China, and such a visit did not solve that key issue.”

Franco-Italian light aircraft companies, the French utility company Engie and European luxury foods were among those businesses Macron went into bat for, as well as climate and biodiversity, as a series of contracts and agreements was signed on Wednesday in Beijing.

France and China also agreed on a deal that could allow French foie gras back into China, after it was banned in 2015 after an outbreak of H5N8 bird flu.

A bigger win was scored by the European Union, which concluded a long-awaited agreement with Beijing to protect 100 European geographical indicators in China “against imitations and usurpation”. Champagne, feta cheese and Parma ham can no longer be called as such if they do not originate from the officially designated region.

The deal was not signed by Macron, but by Phil Hogan, the EU’s agriculture and rural commissioner who will be the new trade commissioner when president-elect Ursula von der Leyen’s team takes office in December at the earliest.

Joerg Wuttke, chair of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China who briefed both Macron and Hogan during their visit, called Hogan’s presence a “unique arrangement” that “a visiting G7 head of government is bringing along an EU commissioner plus a German minister” (education and research minister Anna Karliczek) in a move that was aimed at demonstrating European unity.

In March, during Xi’s visit to Paris, Macron also invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to meet the Chinese president.

But Bondaz said Macron’s approach of engaging only Germany and the European Commission in dealing with China should be broadened. He said countries that were outspoken about China’s policies, such as Sweden and nations in eastern Europe facing investment from China, could get involved as well.

Merkel is expected to host a meeting in Leipzig with Xi and EU heads of government in September next year.

Until then, the EU is trying to conclude an investment agreement with China, dealing with the often complained about issue of unequal market access created by Chinese protectionist trade and investment policies.

“I said to Macron and Hogan that we should always have the option of walking away from the table if the terms are not good,” Wuttke said. “Macron loved the idea, and so did Hogan.”


Category: China

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