Paris (CNSNews.com) – After last year’s unsuccessful efforts to mediate in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, French President Emmanuel Macron heads to Beijing this week in a bid to urge China to shift its stance on Russia’s invasion of its neighbor.
The war in Ukraine will not be the only item up for discussion during the three-day visit beginning on Wednesday, however. “Economy, business and international relations are also on the agenda of the trip,” Macron’s office told media outlets.
Macron is traveling to China with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Also accompanying him are 60 heads of major French companies, including Airbus, the service company Veolia, and the electric utility provider EDF.
While Macron believes China could be an essential player in working towards a resolution of the conflict between Moscow and Kyiv, Marc Julienne, researcher at the Center for Asian Studies of the Paris-based Institute of International Relations said Macron fundamentally misunderstands China’s position on Ukraine.
Julienne told France Inter radio Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Moscow was proof of his friendship with President Vladimir Putin and “removed any ambiguity about Chinese neutrality in the Ukraine-Russia war.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, China’s position hasn’t changed. While claiming to be seeking a peaceful resolution, it has not condemned the invasion – and does not even acknowledge that an invasion has taken place, referring instead to the “Ukraine crisis.”
Its recent position paper on a “political settlement of the Ukraine crisis” does not call on Russia to withdraw its troops or to reverse its annexation of occupied Ukrainian territory.
Jean-Pierre Cabestan, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Hong Kong Baptist University, was pessimistic about Macron’s chances of persuading Xi to change direction.
“China considers France as a middle power and looks down on Macron,” he told France 24. “I think the Chinese want to use Macron against the E.U. to defend their interests, not only to do with their alliance with Moscow but also their economic interests.”
In Julienne’s view, China hopes to use France to swing Europe towards a more neutral position vis-à-vis the United States, as part of a strategy to divide the West.
“Macron’s policy at the international level is made up of ambiguity, of an alternative path, a kind of ‘third way,’” said Julienne. “China likes the concept of strategic autonomy pushed by Macron. For Beijing, this strategic autonomy means a certain independence from the U.S.”
Macron spoke by phone with President Joe Biden on Tuesday. The White House said they discussed Macron’s upcoming travel to China, and “reiterated their steadfast support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression.”
Another issue Julienne said was important for Macron to bring up was the situation of Taiwan, the island democracy which China claims as its own.
“The question of Taiwan must be a priority, because if there are problems in the Strait, the consequences could be negative for the world, and for France too,” he said.
On the economic side, French companies are looking to boost business in China after three difficult years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. China, the world’s largest market, is the destination for more European products than any other country, except for the U.S.
European exports to Beijing have increased by 76 percent between 2011 and 2021, while imports from China have almost doubled in ten years. European countries want competition between China and the E.U. to be fairer.
Commercial partnerships, between France, the E.U. and China will feature prominently during the visit by Macron and von der Leyen, according to Macron’s office.
As he heads to China the French president leaves behind him a country gripped by turmoil over controversial pension reform plans. After legislation was forced through without a vote in parliament, the proposals now face the scrutiny of France’s highest constitutional authority.
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