For Paris, there's no China la
rupture By Federico
As President Nicolas Sarkozy
completed his visit to China on November 26,
Beijing discovered that its political, diplomatic
and industrial relations with Paris won't suffer
because of the end of the Jacques Chirac era.
During the 2007 French electoral campaign,
Sarkozy's insistence on a new course (la
rupture) in both domestic and foreign policy
led observers to suppose that rapprochement with
Washington could signal sudden coolness in
Sino-French strategic ties.
Niquet, an analysts with the French Institute for
International Relations (IFRI), wrote in France's
daily Les Echos that
"uncertainty, if not uneasiness" were the dominant
feelings among Chinese diplomats just before
Sarkozy's arrival last month. Apparently,
Sarkozy's intentions of "re-balancing" Sino-French
relations by promoting a "policy of reciprocity"
had raised eyebrows in Beijing.
But in the
end, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel
reiterated last month her purposes to launch a
"new foreign policy" based on human rights rather
than commercial interests, Sarkozy's visit marked
the strengthening of a Sino-French strategic
partnership and economic relations.
though Sarkozy's speeches in Beijing were framed
on the reciprocity concept, and in spite of his
wishes to see China adopt a more friendly monetary
policy (read: re-evaluate the yuan), the new
French president was very clearly on Beijing's
side when it came to China's paramount
geopolitical interest: Paris supports China's
unity and in no way favors Taiwan's or Tibet's
There is more: to
Washington's and (especially) Tokyo's displeasure,
Sarkozy reaffirmed Chirac's position on the
European Union arms ban against China: Paris
favors lifting the ban.
journalist Francoise Crouignou summarized it well,
writing that it is difficult to harmonize
"geostrategy" with the ambitious foreign policy
"new course" Sarkozy has been talking about.
France's pushy defense, aero-spatial, energy and
high-tech companies have long eyed China's
ever-growing markets as "the real deal", and such
a reality suggests that Paris would restrict its
criticism of Beijing’s human rights record to
In fact, European
observers haven't failed to notice that Sarkozy's
emphasis on reciprocity has not been matched by
President Hu Jintao's promises to reshape China's
monetary policy in order to re-balance
Sino-European trade relations. On the contrary,
sources have said that Hu has made it clear that
"Beijing's monetary policy is to serve China's
Speaking to the press after
his encounter with Hu, Sarkozy also stressed how
the Chinese president signed a joint declaration
that highlights the need to harmonize economic
growth with environmental sustainability. However,
Beijing remains skeptical about the implementation
of Kyoto agreements, as recent news has confirmed.
Back in France, a triumphant Sarkozy
greeted his fellow citizens by announcing an
"unprecedented' series of economic deals with
China. Contracts signed by French aerospace and
nuclear power giants Airbus and Areva alone are
worth around 20 billion euros.
signed a "general agreement" with Chinese
authorities, according to which the French
aerospace company will sell China 110
short-to-medium range A320 planes and 50 wide-body
A330 airliners for a total of over 11.3 billions
euros (around US$17 billion). Another 10 A330
aircraft will be sold by Airbus to China's
The other big winner is
Areva. The energy conglomerate will provide
Beijing two third-generation European Pressurized
Reactor (EPR) nuclear power plants for about 8
billion euros. The two reactors will be built in
Taishan, and uranium will be provided by the
Areva-controlled Uramin Group of Canada, thanks to
Some French observers have
pointed out, however, that two plants are all but
insufficient to enable France to dominate China’s
flourishing civilian nuclear market. Russian and
US offers will make competition stiff, and
therefore, the argument goes, the deal seems to
favor Areva’s finances more than the interests of
France’s atomic energy sector. It's a sure thing
that a confident smile adorned Anne Lauvergeon,
Areva’s CEO, after the agreement.
players have also profited from Sarkozy’s visit to
reinforce their presence in China.
High-tech heavyweight Alcatel-Lucent succeeded
in signing a 750 million-euro deal with China
Mobile Limited for telecommunication equipment.
Defense corporation Eurocopter struck a deal
to sell Beijing 10 medium-lift, multi-role EC155
utility helicopters for 80 million euros.
Natixis, a bank specialized in financial
services and asset management, finalized a
cooperation agreement for an energy efficiency
program worth 60 million euros.
Train manufacturer Alstom signed a 43
million-euro contract to provide Shanghai's
underground network with a new signaling system.
Maritime transportation specialist CMA-CGM
will benefit from a cooperation accord with China
to develop the Haicang port in Xiamen, and will
detain 30% of its shares worth some 62 million
Suez, another major French energy player, will
expand its activities in water management in
Tang-Jiatuo, near Chingqing, within the framework
of a 80 million euros agreement.
Sanofi-Avensis, one of France’s leading
pharmaceutical companies, will build a factory
designed to produced an anti-flu vaccine after a
63.88 million-euro deal.
to Beijing has shown not only how China's booming
strategic markets are too big an opportunity for
advanced defense, energy, and high-tech producers
to put ideals before interests. It has also
demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that China already
has one feature typical of all great powers in
history: it forces states to take specific stances
towards it, and causes dilemmas. In fact, the
European Union’s main political powers have
different approaches to China: Germany stresses
democracy and human rights, while France is eager
to continue its strategic partnership with Beijing
to such an extent that Paris' enthusiasm for
Chinese defense markets may spark tensions with
some Western partners.
The outcome of the
French president's trip to China carries some
ironic implications. Chirac was perhaps the
strongest advocate of a multipolar system during
his years at the Elysee, and Sarkozy was expected
to limit such aspirations while sticking to US
world leadership. In the geopolitical system, a
power-pole is defined by its ability to initiate
and sustain action independently from another big
power. It seems clear that China has such ability,
and that multipolarity is on its way to become an
accepted reality - whether Sarkozy and his Western
sponsors like it or not.
Bordonaro is Europe editor with the Power and
Interest News Report (www.pinr.com).