Emmanuel Macron’s White House visit highlights Transatlantic Differences over China
Iveta Cherneva, author and analyst
This week, French President Emmanuel Marcon is the guest of the first White House state visit for the Biden administration. France and the United States will try to put behind and move on from the fiasco that was the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal. Their views on China will highlight transatlantic differences that will only exacerbate from this point on.
Ahead of Macron’s visit, when prompted about the French “third way” on China, a senior White House official said that “Europe has its own interests”. “Our views on China are not identical”, he added, “but I think there is a strong view that we should be speaking from a common script in response to China”. The senior White House official stated that the US “very much welcome France’s partnership to ensure a free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific and expect that will be very much top of mind for the two presidents.”
That “common script in response to China” that the Biden administration is hoping for will remain wishful thinking on the part of team Biden, however. French President Macron has maintained that everyone ganging up on China is not the way to go. What’s more, poll after poll shows that Europeans, including the French, do not see themselves in a Cold War against China and do not see China as an adversary. European politicians’ “middle way” on China is not a coincidence but it is very much grounded in European constituents’ views on China. Biden’s policy on China won’t be Europe’s policy on China.
Macron’s “third way” on China looks like a mix of partnership and competition in economic and trade terms. This is a line that Macron has maintained consistently over the past years. What’s more, the French President recently stated that China can play the role of a mediator in Russia’s war on Ukraine, in an attempt to have China play a bigger role and come closer to Europe. In November, at the G20 Summit, Macron called for France and China to unite against the war in Ukraine when Macron met China's leader Xi Jinping in Bali. This was at odds with the US’s aim to contain and isolate China politically, not to give it the floor and the spotlight. The US would certainly not want the peacemaker role for China. Chinese “aggression” in the Indo-Pacific is a theme constantly pushed by the Biden administration as a matter of explicit strategy. Europeans do not share the "China as an aggressor" narrative.
In the macro picture, French President Emmanuel Macron has called for engagement with Beijing and has resisted efforts to divide the world into competing blocs. A new Cold War is not in Europe’s interests. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited China earlier this month, and was followed by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Macron’s global order view is fundamentally different from the American way on China. Bloomberg reported Macron’s objection to the creation of two global orders that pit China and Europe against each other. “Now, progressively, a lot of people would like to see that there are two orders in this world,” Macron said in a speech to business executives at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO summit in Bangkok. “This is a huge mistake, even for both the US and China”, he added. “We need a single global order,” Macron said.
The French leader’s comments in particular show that despite US pressure, Europe is trying to carve out a middle ground when it comes to China and will not yield to US pressure. And Macron is not alone. As the National Review reported, Dutch foreign-trade minister Liesje Schreinemacher objected to accepting U.S. leadership in the imposition of export controls designed to undermine Beijing’s ambition in building a chip industry at home and improve its military capabilities. The Dutch, she said, want “to maintain access to China as a major market”. And many European politicians agree.
A fancy White House dinner in a search for “a common script in response to China” won’t make France take a U-turn when it comes to China. Europe led by Macron will not be seeking confrontation with China, and the rift in the transatlantic positions will only become more and more acute. It is not likely that these differences will take the center stage in Macron’s White House visit but they do remain in the background, as the two leaders wine and dine this week.
Iveta Cherneva, author and analyst
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