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A visit that raises eyebrows and exaggerates uncertainty in Indo-Pacific Firstpost

A visit that raises eyebrows and exaggerates uncertainty in Indo-Pacific Firstpost


During his first visit to Europe after the pandemic, Xi Jinping met with French President Emmanuel Macron. Xi hailed ties between China and France as a model for the international community in the face of threats of trade war over Chinese electric cars and French cognac. Xi Jinping's tour across Europe, analysts point out, has highlighted China's bold strategy to exploit fissures within Europe amid contesting major powers.

Among many other developments, the Chinese and French armed forces announced the establishment of a new inter-theater cooperation and dialogue mechanism. This collaboration between the naval and air forces of the two armies aims to further deepen mutual trust and cooperation and jointly safeguard regional security and stability.

Such a move aimed at forging closer Sino-French military ties, particularly in the context of Beijing's assertive maneuvers in the Indo-Pacific region and the South China Sea, raises the question: Europe, and in particular Can France remain a reliable ally, or will it become more accommodating? controversial actions of China in its neighborhood? Countries like India are monitoring the situation closely, concerned about the future of France and Europe and likely to succumb to China's diplomatic and economic incentives.

China claims to be neither at the origin of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, nor a stakeholder, nor a participant”, and thus legitimizes his silence. Can we expect a similar approach from Europe on issues concerning Taiwan and the Philippines?

In recent years, France's relations with China have been marked by a mix of skepticism and strategic engagement, reflecting broader geopolitical goals and national interests. In the recent past, France has been very critical of China, considering it a “strategic threat”. The 2021 update of France's 2017 Strategic Defense and National Security Review described China as a “systemic rival”, an “economic competitor” and “sometimes an important diplomatic partner”. Even as Paris sought to engage with Beijing in 2019, substantial tensions clearly existed. During Xi Jinping's previous European tour, President Macron rallied a united European front to challenge Beijing on crucial European issues such as unfair trade practices, restricted market access for European companies, opaque financing in the framework of the BRI and human rights violations in Tibet and Xinjiang.

Recent events and official statements have further underlined this position. A parliamentary report on foreign interference in France, requested by Marine Le Pen's far-right party, has shed light on China's aggressive and increasingly malicious methods. Calling China the second most serious threat to France after Russia, the report echoes the sentiments of Bernard Emi, director of French foreign intelligence (DGSE), who describes China as an “aggressive power” with a ” unbridled diplomacy.

Additionally, the issue of France's arms sales to Taiwan resurfaced during the pandemic when Taiwan announced plans to purchase defense equipment from France to upgrade the missile systems of purchased French warships. in 1991 and 1992. Beijing expressed “serious concern” and urged Paris to avoid actions that could strain Sino-French relations. Following Chinese aerial intrusions into Taiwan's air defense zone, a French delegation led by former Defense Minister Alain Richard traveled to Taipei to meet President Tsai Ing-wen. The visit was seen as a powerful symbol of France's commitment to opposing China's unilateral aggression and supporting peace, security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

In maintaining this assertive position, France has forged strategic partnerships with nations, sharing its concerns about China's growing influence. Recently, Macron and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed to negotiate a reciprocal access agreement to facilitate visits and joint exercises between the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the French military. The pact aims to strengthen military cooperation and preparedness in the Indo-Pacific region, where both countries appeared eager to counterbalance China's growing footprint. Similarly, France has also strengthened its defense ties with India. Earlier this year, Paris and New Delhi agreed to jointly produce defense equipment, including helicopters and submarines, for the armed forces of India and other friendly countries.

Nonetheless, in a paradoxical twist that raises eyebrows and calls into question France's reliability, Paris has also moved toward closer security cooperation with China. This unexpected maneuver, despite France's alliances with nations wary of Beijing, highlights a complex and nuanced approach adopted by Paris. During Xi Jinping's recent visit to Europe, France and China announced an innovative mechanism for inter-theater cooperation and dialogue involving their naval and air forces. The move aims to deepen mutual trust and cooperation, in sharp contrast to France's harsh criticism of China's aggressive tactics and human rights abuses.

The move highlights a strategic balancing act on Paris' part, but at the same time it also casts doubt on its resolve as a partner to countries like India and Japan. While strengthening its defense ties with these countries to counterbalance China's influence, France's simultaneous engagement with Beijing could be seen as undermining its commitments to safeguarding global norms and values.

France appears to have made a dramatic 180-degree turn, with recent conversations such as: What forces are exaggerating the Chinese threat and pushing to make China an enemy? China is a friend; it is also an economic competitor. This surprising military shift toward China, particularly amid escalating geopolitical tensions, paints a picture of France struggling to maintain diplomatic flexibility. However, this approach could also be seen as a way in which France is hedging its bets, seeking to secure its interests on multiple fronts, while risking the trust of its traditional allies.

These actions echo Macron's frequent assertion that France is allied but not aligned, demonstrating its commitment to the idea of ​​multi-alignment. They also highlight how divided Europe's commitment and vision for the region is. Their cautious reminder to Asia – “What happens in Europe has security implications in Asia” – contrasts sharply with their attitude towards perceptions of security in Asia. For this reason, Europe's challenges in the region remain more a question of economics than security. For countries like France, China does not pose a direct military threat, but for countries in the Indo-Pacific, the situation is completely different. If there is anything to be inferred from the growing military cooperation between Paris and Beijing, it is that Asian powers must fend for themselves; they cannot rely entirely on Europe.

The author is a Research Fellow at the East Asia Centre, MP-IDSA, New Delhi, India. The opinions expressed in the article above are personal and solely those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Firstpost.




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