A Look at the Future of Franco-Chinese Relations

François Hollande and Hu Jintao.
Photo: http://www.news.cn

On September 24, Ayrault went to the Chinese embassy in France to honor the Chinese National Holiday. The 2008 diplomatic crisis between Nicolas Sarkozy and Chinese President Hu Jintao, as well as the confrontational past of the Ayrault’s claims concerning Tibet, and Hollande’s declarations concerning China, all seem to have been forgotten.

Turning over a new leaf, the Chinese ambassador nicknamed Ayrault “the dear friend” of China and Ayrault added that the relationship between France and China is based on “dialogue and openness.”

But the relationship has not always been so strong. Ambassador Quan was the first diplomat to congratulate Hollande for his election, and gave him an official letter from President Hu, emphasizing that “the long-standing friendship and cooperation between China and France conforms with the fundamental interests of the two countries and of the two people.” However, Chinese press has not treated Hollande with the same warm praise.

In February, during the presidential campaign, when future Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius went to China to meet the nine most important political officials, none of them agreed to meet with him. This was because both the Chinese people and the Chinese government were sure that Sarkozy would be re-elected for a second term.

As Xing Hua, a specialist on European questions at the Chinese Institute of International Studies, said it in an interview with Le Figaro on May 6, 2012, “Hollande is a great unknown for us, but also for the whole international community.” There was no doubt for China that Sarkozy, whom they were used to working with, would be re-elected.

Consequently, the anonymity of the new French President has lead various Chinese newspapers to be quite critical toward Prime Minister Ayrault’s lack of experience. The Xinjingbao (新京报) goes further in pointing out the fact that President Hollande is without experience, without mistakes, and is unmarried.”

In May, The China Youth (青年志) was also critical. The newspaper raised doubts concerning the economic measures of the new President, underlining the fact that they “put stress on social equality. But a stimulation of the economy implies bringing tremendous financial revenue into play. This is a challenge for the Franco-German alliance.”

The Beijing Chenbao (北京晨报) is more pragmatic by asserting that “developing good relations with China is a must’” for France. In face of the current economic crisis, one cannot deny that France needs China, and in the face of China’s slowing economic growth the reverse is also true. This implies that the two countries will have to overcome their various points of dissention, among them case of a possible Syrian intervention.

The first sensitive topic between the two countries is economic. During his presidential campaign, Hollande declared to the journalist Eric Dupin that: ‘The problem, it is Chinese. They cheat on everything: with money, with research.” Among the main points of criticism is the fact that China does not have the same conception and legislation regarding matters of intellectual property. But most of all, the problem is the fact that the Chinese Yuan is not convertible. Although Chinese officials think the situation has improved, it has been speculated that Hollande will demand equal trade and ask China to ensure the convertibility of the Yuan abroad.

The second point of contention concerns the environment. President Hollande asserts that the Chinese government does not play by the same environmental rules as other countries. According to the French President “every country has to have the same behavior and the same rules for production.”

The last concern is linked to Human Rights. Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius insisted on the fact that France does not seek to impose its views, but that they “expect to have a substantial and respectful dialogue with your country.”

However, both France and China say they are ready to work with each other. During the G20 Summit, President Hu declared that as France and China are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and are among the world’s most powerful economies, they bear important responsibilities in the world. The President of China also asked for long-term and strategic relations between the two countries concerning nuclear and aeronautic cooperation so as to tend toward a balance development of bilateral trade. He also asserted that China would support France in its desire to form closer ties in the international community and in its promotion of a peace project. On the other hand, Hollande also argued that France shares many positions on key issues, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs confirmed it in an interview with Xinhua for the French Consulate in Beijing.

According to Sun Yan, an expert on France at the Chinese Social Sciences Academy, there will not be changes in the relations between the two countries, and President Hollande is more likely to carry on with Sarkozy’s politics on this ground.

Nevertheless either on the East, or on the West, both Presidents keep an eye on the other side actions. President Hollande appointed the former chief executive of the Asian section at Quai Branly, Paul Jean-Ortiz as a diplomatic adviser, most likely in preparation for his visit to China by the beginning of 2013. In an interview for China Central Television, Yun Tao, an independent Chinese journalist and observer in France, claimed that it would help Hollande gain a better understanding of Chinese culture. Furthermore, this official visit will allow Hollande to meet the future officials of tomorrow’s China, as most of them are going to be reelected in October.

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