A New Starting Point?

French President Emmanuel Macron and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen held talks with Chinese leaders in Beijing. These discussions could mark a new direction for the bloc's relationship with China, which has been strained in recent years.

  • Macron met with Premier Li Qiang and later had an elaborate ceremony with President Xi Jinping outside the Great Hall of the People, complete with a 21-gun salute and national anthems
  • Meanwhile, von der Leyen met with Li before her first trip to China as European Commission president and stressed the need for Europe to diplomatically and economically "de-risk" its relationship with China

Strained Relations

Premier Li Qiang stated that the partnership between the EU, France, and China is at a "new starting point," and both parties must prioritize "mutual respect and win-win cooperation." However, in recent years, Europe's relationship with China has deteriorated due to a range of issues such as allegations of Chinese rights abuses in the Xinjiang region, stalled investment agreements, criticism of China's transparency regarding COVID-19, and its reluctance to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

  • Despite this, Macron believes that Europe should not reduce its trade and diplomatic ties with China and avoid a "spiral" of tension between China and the West
  • China is keen to prevent Europe from following what it perceives as U.S.-led efforts to contain its growth, and there are hopes of reconciliation with France

A Third Pole

French President Emmanuel Macron stated on Sunday that Europe should avoid worsening the situation regarding Taiwan and instead follow an independent strategy that does not rely on either the United States or China.

  • Macron urged Europe to take its time in building its position as a third force between China and the United States, rather than accelerating the conflict
  • He was quoted in Les Echos and Politico as saying that the worst thing Europe could do would be to become followers and adapt to the American or Chinese rhythm

Macron also stressed the need for Europe to better fund its defense industry, develop nuclear and renewable energy, and reduce dependence on the US dollar to limit reliance on the United States, according to both media outlets.

Keep On Trying

White House officials remembered Macron's previous unsuccessful attempts to mediate with Putin before and during Russia's invasion over a year ago and expect similar outcomes this time. While the White House supports Macron's trip to China, there is concern in the Biden administration about France's potential close relationship with China, given the current tensions between the US and China.

  • The US administration officials were not optimistic that Macron would achieve a breakthrough, as there were doubts that the trip would deliver significant results
  • The officials said that Xi was unlikely to act on Macron’s requests or curb China's assertive moves in the Pacific

Intelligence Failures

Macron may be tempted to move ahead with issues the size of China. However, international observers may only wish him good luck as France's intelligence gathering has shown important blind and weak spots in the run up to the Russian invasion, the Australian submarine deal and the coup in Mali.

  • The Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM) has been particularly criticized, and its head, General Eric Vidaud, was forced out of his job last year
  • Some experts believe Vidaud was made a scapegoat for broader failings within the DRM, which traditionally focuses on locations where French troops are active, such as the Sahel region of Africa, making it less equipped to make judgments on areas such as Eastern Europe

Pierre Brochand, a former boss of France's main foreign intelligence agency, the Directorate General for External Security (DGSE), said the DRM was a "weak service" that had "never really worked well." The criticism comes as French lawmakers express alarm over the intelligence community's failures, which include not anticipating Australia's decision to cancel a major submarine deal with France and not foreseeing a coup in Mali.


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