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Backlash from Macron's China visit

Backlash from Macron's China visit
Backlash from Macron's China visit | Quick Take | GZERO Media

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Happy Monday. It's Ian Bremmer here and a Quick Take to kick off our week. And I want to talk a little bit about French President Emmanuel Macron, who is in the news again this week and not for demonstrations at home. Not for trying to change the pension age from 62 to 64, I mean that and the backlash has been dominating international coverage of the French president for weeks now. But this time around, it's what he's saying on the international stage.

Specifically, Macron has just completed a trip to China with Ursula von der Leyen and brought a whole bunch of business leaders with him. Nothing shocking about that. Olaf Scholz did the same a few months ago when he went to Beijing. Was talking about Xi Jinping playing more of a role on the Russia, Ukraine crisis. There, that is a bit different than what we've seen from other leaders. It was in the G-20 in Bali when Macron went off-piste and basically said, "Hey, we'd love to have Xi Jinping engaged directly in leading diplomacy, responding to the Russian invasion." The Americans were skeptical, a number of other Western leaders a little concerned that Macron had made those statements without talking to them about it but didn't really go anywhere.

This time around, it's both a call for Europe to be less dependent on the United States, at the same time that France is in Beijing trying to increase their dependence on China, saying that the EU should not be involved in conflicts where it is not a direct party and mentioning Taiwan specifically. While of course the United States is leading military support on Ukraine, much more important to the Europeans than it is to the US. And also pushing for much more bilateral China, French engagement of Russia, Ukraine, which isn't going anywhere, at least not right now.

The response to all of that has been a level of mistrust. I mean frankly this was, until Macron started talking about the trip, was going very well. He was treated extremely well by the Chinese Government. He was welcomed. It was very much a red carpet treatment. He had lots of Chinese students that were cheering for him, displaying a lot of enthusiasm. Some of which was ginned up by the Chinese Government, but some of which might well have just been spontaneous. And the coverage, the press coverage, the social media coverage was very positive.

Macron then decided that he was going to push a lot of criticism of the United States, and of course that, especially in China itself, given the nature of the US, China relationship was not responded well to at all. It is probably the worst bilateral relationship in the G-7. It's the one leader that Biden doesn't particularly trust. It is quite probably mutual. There's lots of reasons for it. I mean in part, of course, the French Government has always had a more independent view of its own leadership role, and concerns about US exceptionalism, US hypocrisy, and France wanting an out sized role given their permanent seat, for example, at the Security Council, as well as given their historical imperial roles internationally.

Also, at the beginning of the Biden administration, the AUKUS debacle where the French were displaced by the US and the UK for multi-billion-dollar submarine deals, and the French found out about it on CNN, and you may remember the French withdrew their ambassador at that point. This is the kind of flap that just really shouldn't have happened, and in part because France wasn't really trusted and because Kurt Campbell, who was sort of the Asia czar in the White House, in the National Security Council, didn't see fit to talk to the French about it, basically thought that they were irrelevant to the Asian theater. And Anthony Blinken, the secretary of state, who speaks French fluently and has a quite good relationship with his French interlocutors, wasn't really driving Asia policy and didn't assert himself as much as he probably should have. So an embarrassment for the US, France relationship. Biden apologized about it. Hoping that all of this was fixed, but not really.

Now, the fact that French President Macron had said that NATO was brain dead back before the Russian invasion in his talk of strategic autonomy, well, that of course is something that does stick in everyone's popular consciousness. But after the Russian invasion, of course NATO became much more relevant. And indeed, Macron said it was like an electroshock for NATO at the time. And so there was a hope that that level of coordination, the defense coordination, the economic coordination, remember the EU unanimously voted to allow Ukraine membership process, unanimously has supported 10 rounds of sanctions, soon to be 11, France playing a leadership role just like everyone else. So there really was a hope that Macron's personal aspirations and ambitions for broader leadership, as well as his irritation and peak at the United States was something that had been largely assuaged. What we're seeing right now is that really is not the case and is not the case in particular as US, China relations are getting a lot worse.

One other point that I would raise here is the fact that while there is and remains very strong alignment between the United States and pretty much all of its allies on Russia, on a full decoupling of Russia economically, and strong punishment of Russia on the international stage, not something that Global South agrees with at all. That when it comes to China, the United States increasingly sees China as a hostile national security threat that should extend to significant strategic economic interactions. On critical minerals for example, on semiconductors, for example, other places. That is not met with anywhere near the same level of agreement among US allies. Almost all US allies want strong security relations with the US, but also want strong economic relations with China. Especially as China's about to become the largest economy in the world. And in that regard, the Germans, the French, and others are closer to the US private sector orientation towards China, most of them, than they are to the US Government, Democrats or Republicans.

But despite that tension, it hasn't been put on public display the way we've seen from Macron over the last 48 hours. That's unfortunate and will surely lead to backlash. Whether it leads to a broader rift in the transatlantic relationship is an open question. Let's see how the Germans, how the Italians in particular respond to Macron on this issue.

That's it for me, I'll talk to you all real soon.


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