Macron seeks strategic partnership with China

Trade, climate change on French agenda; Beijing will watch for nod to Silk Road plans

PARIS • In Mandarin, Mr Emmanuel Macron's name is rendered "makelong", or "the horse vanquishes the dragon" - an encouraging image for the French President as he heads to China hoping to forge closer ties with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

During the three-day trip starting today, Mr Macron plans to seek a "strategic partnership" with Beijing, notably on terrorism and climate change, an official in his office said.

In particular, France hopes Beijing will join it in playing a decisive role in implementing the Paris accord to fight climate change after the US pullout pledged by President Donald Trump. Although China is the world's biggest polluter, it is also the biggest investor in clean energy technologies.

Mr Macron also said last week that China had a key leadership role to play in easing the crisis provoked by North Korea's nuclear programme, after Mr Trump's war of words with Pyongyang leader Kim Jong Un.

"The ambition of the Chinese leadership is to persuade the French President to position himself on issues like North Korea as a 'go-between', defending 'dialogue' against the more aggressive posture of the United States, and to implicitly recognise by his choices the pre-eminence of China in the region," analyst Valerie Niquet said.

Mr Macron will also ask Beijing to help support the G-5 Sahel force being created with forces from Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania, tasked with fighting militant forces spread across an area of desert the size of Europe.

China has already become a key business partner across Africa, with total investments reaching US$31.6 billion (S$41.9 billion) in 2016 in projects including railways, highways, ports and power stations.

They are part of the network of transport links Mr Xi is developing in his One Belt, One Road initiative to boost trade, and Beijing will be watching how keen Mr Macron is to jump on board. "It's the most important issue in international relations for the years to come, and will be the most important point during Emmanuel Macron's visit," said Dr Barthelemy Courmont, a China expert at French think-tank Iris.

CHINA'S INTENTION

The ambition of the Chinese leadership is to persuade the French President to position himself on issues like North Korea as a 'go-between', defending 'dialogue' against the more aggressive posture of the United States, and to implicitly recognise by his choices the pre-eminence of China in the region.

ANALYST VALERIE NIQUET

The US$1 trillion project is billed as a modern revival of the ancient Silk Road that once carried fabric, spices and a wealth of other goods in both directions. The plans would see gleaming new road and rail networks built through Central Asia and beyond, and new maritime routes stretching through the Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

So far, France has been cautious on the Silk Road plan, but Dr Courmont said Chinese leaders were "waiting for a clear position" from Mr Macron at a time when they view the young leader as an "engine" for growth in Europe.

The state visit will be the first by a European leader since China's Communist Party conference in October, which reinforced Mr Xi's grip on power as he was formally handed a second term. Mr Macron will notably be accompanied by some 50 company chiefs keen to do business with the Asian powerhouse.

"We will be signing an exceptional number of strategic deals, about 50," China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said last week.

The deals include sales of Airbus planes and Safran jet engines. State nuclear giant Areva is also negotiating a contract to build a reprocessing site for radioactive waste.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2018, with the headline 'Macron seeks strategic partnership with China'. Print Edition | Subscribe