French finance minister backs Macron on US-China stance
French President Emmanuel Macron was correct to distance himself from Washington’s confrontational policies on China, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Tuesday. Macron’s frequent assertions of European “autonomy,” however, have been strictly rhetorical to date.
Speaking to Politico while on a trip to China last week, Macron insisted that Europe must avoid “taking our cue from the US agenda” and stay neutral on the issue of Taiwan. “Europe faces a great risk,” he said, if it “gets caught up in crises that are not ours.”
Macron “is perfectly right to demand European independence and sovereignty as he has been doing since 2017,” Le Maire told France’s Europe 1 radio station on Tuesday. “We are obviously allies of the United States,” he continued. “We share the same values, we share a lot of common economic interests. But just because we are allies of the United States does not mean that we have to be against China.”
Paris has an economic interest in avoiding confrontation with Beijing. During Macron’s visit, seven major French companies, including Airbus, energy firm EDF, and shipbuilder CMA-CGM, signed or extended contracts with Chinese firms.
"We choose the path of dialogue,” Le Maire said. “Isn't that preferable to a logic of confrontation and acceleration of any conflict whatsoever?”
Since the start of his first term in office in 2017, Macron has talked extensively of lessening Europe’s reliance on the US, particularly in the realm of defense. However, the French leader ceased his criticism of NATO once Russia’s military operation in Ukraine began last year. France has since joined the US in supplying arms and ammunition to Kiev, while backing the EU’s sanctions on Moscow, even as the ensuing economic damage to France has contributed to public unrest.
Macron’s attempts to position himself as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia have also fallen flat. Phone calls between the French president and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, have been ineffectual, while a supposed French peace plan has already been given the cold shoulder by the Kremlin.
“Paris can hardly aspire to be a mediator at this time, because Paris actually takes the side of one of the participants in the conflict,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday, adding that France is “directly and indirectly” involved on the side of Ukraine.