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China, The West And Macron's "Third Way" For Cooling Global Tensions

The French President begins a three-day visit to China. He has the difficult task of forging a "third way" for Europe between U.S. and Chinese interests in an increasingly polarized world.

Photo of French president Emmanuel Macron arriving in Beijing

French President Emmanuel Macron arrives at Beijing on Wednesday for a state visit to China.

Pierre Haski


PARIS — Do not send the wrong message.

This is the main issue at stake in French President Emmanuel Macron's three-day visit to China. He must not send the wrong message about Ukraine but instead pretend to believe in Chinese mediation. He must not misunderstand the more global issue of China-Europe relations at a time when Beijing and Washington are increasingly at odds with each other.

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Emmanuel Macron chose to invite Ursula Von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, to join this trip. This is obviously an important gesture because it avoids a bilateral trap between the Chinese giant and each of the 27 European states, where the balance of power with the European Union is more favorable.

The moment is decisive. The country that the French president is returning to, after three years of absence due to the pandemic, is no longer the same. It has taken off and now places itself as the opposing superpower to the United States, as the only country capable of standing up to a hegemonic America. Russia appears to be weakened by its war in Ukraine, forced to recognize that it is China that now embodies the dissident pole against the West.

This new situation means that China has understood that the deterioration of its relationship with the United States is not cyclical, but structural. All Chinese logic is now aimed at dealing with American hostility in the long term. This particularly entails advanced technology, which is the heart of power in the 21st century, especially when one considers the rapid rise of artificial intelligence.

Europe is caught in a vice, which is what makes this journey even more complex than it already is. On the one hand, it is vainly looking for a third way between a purely commercial approach and completely siding with the U.S.

The commercial approach is disconnected from geopolitical issues, which would be suicidal. On the other hand, an alignment with Washington, in a remake of the Cold War, would serve U.S. interests more than European ones.

Photo of President Biden meeting with President Xi of the PRC

US President Joe Biden and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping

Biden - Xi via wikimedia commons

A polarized international stage

China's whole strategy is to smile at Europe to deviate it from America, and France, with its rhetoric of strategic autonomy, is a prime target.

I began this column by saying that the French President should not send the wrong message. He is playing a big game because some Europeans, scalded by his unreasonable dialogue with Vladimir Putin, are waiting for him to turn the corner with Xi Jinping.

Europe must not show complacency towards an imperial China.

Emmanuel Macron has no illusions about Chinese ambitions. But he wants to avoid the worst, which would be a total commitment of China on Russia's side in Ukraine — which would ultimately entail military involvement. He is therefore going to flatter the Chinese desire for mediation, which no one is taking seriously at this stage.

And similarly, in its quest for a third way, Europe must not show complacency towards an imperial China, which, as Ursula Von der Leyen rightly described last week, has considerably hardened its regime.

It is therefore a narrow path that must emerge from this trip, in which France and Europe are making their way through and increasingly polarized international stage.

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