When a person thinks of the delicate dance between China, the world’s second-largest economy, and the European Union, the spotlight doesn’t always fall on France.
Yet, a recent meeting between Chinese Vice-Premier He Lifeng and French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire in Beijing illustrates why the spotlight should be there. France is not just an essential player, but a potential dealmaker and deal breaker in the complex EU-China relationship.
The balancing act in EU-China relations
China, with its booming economy, is a tempting market for any country. Yet, it can’t be overlooked that the relationship between the EU and China is as much about negotiating delicate political realities as it is about balancing economic interests.
China has sent out clear signals, emphasizing the need for France to be the stabilizer in EU-China relations. The Asian powerhouse is looking to deepen its ties with France, not just in traditional sectors like finance, but also in the dynamic fields of science and technological innovation.
This is a stark contrast to the reserved yet honest discourse Beijing maintains with top-ranking U.S. officials. France, for its part, is willing to play this role.
With China being its third-largest trade partner, it is in France’s best interests to maintain a cordial relationship. However, French businesses are becoming increasingly wary about being collateral damage in the escalating economic contest between the U.S. and China.
At the same time, the EU’s stance towards China can’t be entirely dictated by economic considerations alone. The EU, led by France, is trying to devise a strategy to cooperate with China while mitigating risks.
This task becomes even more challenging considering the EU’s recent move to impose the 11th round of sanctions against Russia, which could potentially impact Chinese firms circumventing current measures.
Minister Le Maire has outlined three key challenges where France and China can work in tandem – the green transition, reorganization of value chains, and the technological revolution.
Additionally, Le Maire has raised issues related to market access for French companies in several sectors including banking, nuclear, cosmetics, and agriculture.
France enhancing bilateral cooperation
Le Maire sees an expansion of financial and economic cooperation between France and China as an essential next step. The French minister expressed the desire to welcome significant Chinese investments into French territory.
Recent talks between the two countries have already yielded progress in several sectors, including cosmetics, aerospace, food and beverages, and finance. The Chinese side, in particular, lauded France’s decision to extend Huawei 5G licenses in some cities.
Despite the current global instability, China’s Vice-Premier, He Lifeng, has sent out a positive signal, stating the meeting was a sign of China and France working together to address shared challenges.
Bottomline is France’s role in the China-EU relationship is set to become more vital in the coming years. The country must navigate complex political, economic, and ethical dilemmas while fostering a robust partnership with China.
France’s role as a negotiator and influencer will undoubtedly be crucial in determining the future course of the EU-China relationship.