60 Years of Diplomacy: Assessing Sino-French Ties in an American-Led World Order
By Dr. Yuanyuan Wei

60 Years of Diplomacy: Assessing Sino-French Ties in an American-Led World Order

Feb. 23, 2024  |     |  0 comments

The year 2024 marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France. This anniversary not only underscores the enduring nature of their friendship but also the dawn of a new chapter in their relations. Standing on the threshold of this new chapter, it becomes imperative to reflect on past achievements and explore avenues for further cooperation. The United States, as a global superpower, undoubtedly plays a crucial role in shaping the dynamics of China-France relations. Thus, a careful consideration of the United States’ role is essential in navigating and shaping the trajectory of their relationship going forward.

In the economic sphere, the economic and trade relations between China and France are deeply intertwined and mutually advantageous. Nonetheless, the emergence of the "Europe's dangerous dependence on China" narrative within European political discourse has impacted the policymaking process, prompting calls for "decoupling" and "de-risking" from the Chinese economy. This trend is distinctly associated with the United States, arising from direct pressure by the US or from European efforts to synchronize with American policies.

In the geopolitical landscape, the impact of the United States on the dynamics between China and France is palpable. The strategic partnerships and alliances fostered by the US carry significant consequences for both countries. Efforts by the US to unite its allies, such as France, around its position on China introduce intricate diplomatic challenges for both countries to navigate.

Furthermore, the US's strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific region have significantly shaped its interactions with China and, consequently, its relationship with France. The US has openly expressed concerns about China's growing influence in the region, and its attempts to counterbalance this growth have had global repercussions. This has implications for France, which maintains historical connections and strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific. The US's strategic pivot to Asia, emphasizing a robust regional presence, affects France's engagements with China as it seeks to balance its strategic priorities and alliances.

Following the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Europe is increasingly realizing the United States as its most significant economic, diplomatic, and security challenge, rather than China. Should Europe pursue a strategy of "de-risking" against China, driven by narrow value biases and differences in political systems, it would likely stray further from its aspirations for “strategic autonomy.” Embracing Charles de Gaulle's pragmatic approach, President Macron's calls for European sovereignty and strategic autonomy signal a push for greater European, and particularly French, independence and decision-making capacity distinct from that of the US. This stance includes a marked skepticism towards the United States. In comparison, Europe and China share a broader range of strategic interests.

In the context of Sino-French relations, the principle of "seeking common ground while respecting differences" remains paramount. This approach stands in contrast to the more fraught dynamics of Sino-US relations, where certain disputes, such as the US concerns over China’s rise to global preeminence and specific issues like the Taiwan Strait, appear deeply entrenched and potentially irreconcilable. However, the relationship between China and France, and by extension with Europe, is distinctly different. The absence of geopolitical conflicts, alongside a mutual recognition that neither side intends to supplant or undermine the other's political system, sets a more cooperative tone. Despite differing political systems, France and Europe understand that specific issues that arise with China can be addressed through effective communication, underscoring a foundation for constructive engagement.

The forthcoming anniversary offers a pivotal moment for China and France to initiate a discussion on global issues such as climate change, security, and multilateralism. It also presents an opportunity for both countries to reevaluate their economic relationship, seeking pathways for sustainable and mutually advantageous cooperation that align with their economic objectives and global commitments. The abundance of shared interests between China and France furnishes both a strong incentive and a pressing need for collaboration.

Despite the influence of the United States, China and France have continued to seek ways to strengthen their ties across various sectors. The year 2024 is set to witness an array of collaborative activities between the two nations, including joint cultural events, educational exchange programs, and research partnerships, designed to enhance mutual understanding and interaction. Cultural exchanges, in particular, have played a pivotal role in fostering cooperation. Both countries have a rich tradition of cultural diplomacy, and this anniversary offers an opportunity to reinvigorate cultural interactions, fostering deeper people-to-people ties and collaboration in the fields of arts and education.

The hope is that the younger generation will bring forth constructive ideas for cultural exchanges and tackling shared global challenges. Young people from both countries might suggest innovative digital platforms for cross-cultural dialogue and collaborative projects aimed at environmental conservation or sustainable development. These efforts would not only strengthen bilateral relations but also play a significant role in addressing global challenges.

In conclusion, the sixtieth anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and France marks a pivotal moment in their bilateral relationship. While the influence of the United States on their relationship is undeniable, both countries possess the capacity to independently shape their relations and define the trajectory of their future cooperation. The new era presents an opportunity for China and France to enhance their cultural exchanges, strengthen economic cooperation, and engage in meaningful dialogue on global challenges amidst the shifting dynamics of the international landscape. As they celebrate this significant milestone, China and France are poised to develop a strong and enduring partnership that transcends geopolitical influences and contributes to global peace and prosperity.