Macron and european divisions in the face of china’s expansionism

The French president Emmanuel Macron (l) and his chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, during a bilateral meeting at the G20 in Hamburg, on July 8, 2017 (Photo by IAN LANGSDON. POOL)

Europe is divided on the monumental program of china’s “new Silk roads” that elicits so much hope as concern. France, who like Germany one-line “median”, the Chinese are waiting for a clarification on the occasion of the visit of Emmanuel Macron.

“It is the most important issue in international relations in the coming years and the most important of the visit of Emmanuel Macron” from Monday, in China, note Barthelemy Courmont, a specialist in Asia within the reflection group, Iris.

The “new Silk roads” are a gigantic infrastructure program launched in 2013 by president Xi Jinping. The project aims to revive the ancient silk Road, which transported on the back of a camel products from the middle kingdom to Europe.

Known in China as “One Belt One Road” (“belt and road”), the initiative includes a belt land by rail and road through central Asia and Russia, as well as a sea route to reach Africa and Europe by the China sea and the Indian ocean.

This massive project involves the construction of roads, ports, railway lines and industrial parks in 65 countries, representing 60% of the population and about one-third of GDP in the world for more than 1,000 billion dollars.

“The chinese government, it is both a project of economic diplomacy, communication and global governance”, explains Alice Ekman, head of operations China at the French Institute of international relations (Ifri).

– ‘Huge opportunity’ –

This expansionism and the determination with which Beijing has made to the book “and have given rise to deep fractures within Europe,” notes Bogdan Goralczyk, director of the Centre for Europe in Warsaw and a former ambassador in Asia.

In the countries of central and eastern Europe, it is the enthusiasm that premium in the face of chinese investment.

“Some see the awakening of China and of Asia as a threat, we see this as a huge opportunity,” said the Prime minister sovereigntist Viktor Orban, at a summit that brought together at the end of November in Budapest, the China and 16 countries of central and eastern Europe and balkan members of the EU or not.

On this occasion, Beijing has announced the awarding of nearly three billion euros for projects such as the construction of a railway line between Belgrade and Budapest.

In western Europe, on the other hand, some capitals, particularly in countries in the north, do not hide their concern. The new Silk roads, “a formula sexy to hide an ambition of world domination?”, asks one western diplomat of high rank.

“Given the course of the chinese project, and the vagueness that continues to surround it, several european countries, including France and Germany, are more careful. They question in particular the consequences on the geo-strategic project in the long term,” stresses Alice Ekman.

In an article in the German press, the former Danish Prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen fears that Europe wakes up “only when it will be too late, and that whole swathes of infrastructure in central and eastern Europe will be dependent on China.”

– ‘Divide Europe’ –

Mr. Rasmussen also reminds us that Greece has blocked in June a joint declaration condemning the abuses of the chinese regime on Human rights, while the port of Piraeus, one of the most important in the world, has passed under chinese control in 2016.

Germany, in favour of chinese investment, also expresses reservations. “If we don’t develop a strategy against China, it will divide Europe,” said foreign Affairs minister Sigmar Gabriel in August.

Paris stands at a median line similar. “The intention of France not to block the road to China”, said Thursday the head of French diplomacy, Jean-Yves Le Drian. “But it is necessary to establish a partnership based on reciprocity in market opening. Our chinese contacts prefer (the formula) win-win. Why not ? Provided that this is not the same, which is a two-time winner”.

According to Barthélemy Courmont, the chinese leaders “expect today a clear positioning” of France at the time of receiving Mr. Macron that they consider as the “locomotive” of Europe.

“If Mr. Macron takes a decision on the support given to the initiative of the chinese, it is the EU that will follow,” stressed the expert, even if it considers that it will be difficult to reconcile the differences of approach.

“Mr. Macron knows that he may not adopt a closed position, under penalty of face immediately to a mini-crisis in europe,” he says.


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