Both the content and timing of French President Emanuel Macron's statements to the press coming off his China trip wherein he urged Europe to step aside from US-China quarrels over Taiwan is driving anger among some Western officials and pundits. As we highlighted yesterday, the statements were widely seen as very 'China-friendly', causing fury especially in Washington at a moment Chinese PLA jets and warships have again conducted encircling drills threatening the democratic-run island.
Macron's articulating a concept of strategic autonomy for Europe was 'enthusiastically endorsed' by Xi and the CCP, who have been focusing on the notion that the West is in decline while China rises, and that weakening the transatlantic relationship will accelerate this trend. "The paradox would be that, overcome with panic, we believe we are just America’s followers," said Macron. "The question Europeans need to answer … is it in our interest to accelerate [a crisis] on Taiwan? No. The worse thing would be to think that we Europeans must become followers on this topic and take our cue from the U.S. agenda and a Chinese overreaction."
Some pundits were quick to call Macron's remarks "spineless and naive" - while others pointed out that what was articulated has always fundamentally been the French position.
One analyst who pointed out the many ways Macron's positions will be taken as a slap in the face and distancing from core US-allied policies is Eurasia Group's Mujtaba Rahman. The below is Rahman's Twitter thread reacting to the fresh interview statements of Macron [emphasis ours]...
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Emmanuel has angered many people (again) by urging Europe to stand aside from US-China quarrels over Taiwan. “We don’t want to get involved in bloc v bloc logic,” he said. The EU should eventually aim to become a “3rd bloc”, strategically independent of BOTH China & US. But his timing is poor. To make these remarks as Chinese military exercises encircled Taiwain – and just after his state visit to China - was a mistake. It will be interpreted as appeasement of Beijing and a green light to Chinese aggression.
The remarks were made to selected journalists on the Presidential plane. Most of the angry reactions – especially in the US – have been to the truncated (but accurate) version published by Politico. The full interview in Les Echos is more nuanced – but will doubtless still anger many people.
.@EmmanuelMacron has angered many people (again) by urging Europe to stand aside from US-China quarrels over Taiwan. “We don’t want to get involved in bloc v bloc logic,” he said. The EU should eventually aim to become a “3rd bloc”, strategically independent of BOTH China & US 1/— Mujtaba Rahman (@Mij_Europe) April 10, 2023
Macron presents his three day state visit to China as part of a long game in which Europe – if it wishes to retain its prosperity and independence – must assert its strategic and economic independence from BOTH China and the US. He claims that he has won the “ideological battle” for this idea – “European strategic autonomy – which was mocked when he first floated it six years’ ago. (Has he won? In some respects maybe. Not all).
He says that Europe will always have many values in common with the US but cannot rely on Washington to preserve Europe’s long-term interests. The top US priority is the US. The number 2 US priority is China. If EU countries follow the US on all things, they will become “vassals”, Macron said. “We don’t want to be drawn into a bloc v bloc logic…We must instead ‘de-risk’ our model by not depending on others while preserving where possible a considerable unity in our values.”
On Taiwan… Macron said Europeans should avoid being “followers” and fall in with an American “rhythm and a Chinese over-reaction”. “The risk is that this strategy is self-fulfilling …We Europeans should wake up. It’s not our priority to adapt to other people’s agendas…”
“If the (US and Chinese) confrontation accelerates, we will not have the time or means to develop our strategic autonomy and we will become vassals instead of the third pole (of global power) that we could become in a few years.”
On China, Russia and Ukraine… Macron rejected suggestions that his six hours of talks with President Xi had made no progress. “The Chinese think, as we do, that we are in a military phase, not a time for negotiations,” he said. “But we were able to consolidate common approaches… on respect for the UN charter and on use of nuclear weapons… on desire for a negotiated and lasting peace. I believe our dialogue tempered the suggestions you hear that there is Chinese indulgence towards Russia.”
In the video Macron says: "I feel at ease with [Xi], including on substance. There's a mutual attraction between France and China, a fascination, a friendship, a singular journey.— Arnaud Bertrand (@RnaudBertrand) April 10, 2023
We need to work to avoid any escalation and at the same time preserve and reinvent an... https://t.co/FS7g0HB2Y0
At several places, Macron appears to equate US & Chinese threats to future EU independence. He especially emphasized the dangers to EU of the IRA (inflation reduction act) & “extra-territoriality of the dollar” – US attempts to enforce financial laws outside its territory. Asked if Joe Biden is a politer version of Donald Trump, Macron praised Biden’s attachments to democracy, diplomacy and Europe. But he said Biden was enmeshed in the “bi-partisan logic which puts America as the number 1 priority, China as No 2 and the rest as less important.”
Macron’s interview is being interpreted as a parting gift to Xi – another doomed attempt (after Putin) to sweet-talk an autocrat. He may also have hoped that “doing a De Gaulle or a Chirac” would improve his popularity in France – although the arguments are all ones that he has made before. More likely, it was just Macron being Macron, thinking ahead in an interesting way but not measuring the immediate political impact of his words.