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EU and French Policies toward China during
Biden's Term





Born in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province in 1970. He studied French at Nanjing Foreign Language School and Beijing Foreign Studies University successively. After graduation, he worked in foreign trade related to Africa and lived in Senegal, Algeria, Togo, Benin, Mali, Nigeria, etc. Tao immigrated to Canada in 2008 and now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Since 2003, he has been working as a columnist, commentator and editorial writer for Singapore's Lianhe Zaobao, Hong Kong's Ming Pao and Asia Weekly, Chinese Canadian radio and Global China News, as well as several Chinese media outlets (mostly under the pseudonym "Tao Duanfang"). In non-international political fields, he is known for his research on Chinese history, especially on the history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. Under the tutelage of the famous historian Mr. Luo Ergang, he has published more than ten books on the subject.

Current titles:

Senior Research Fellow at Grandview Institution

General Counsel of Global China News, Canada

Research Fellow at the Center for Regional and Urban Development, School of Public Policy and Management, Tsinghua University/Yangtze Delta Region Institute of Tsinghua University, Zhejiang

I. Rifts in U.S.-European Relations during Trump's Presidency

1. Doubts to "the mutual defense" pledge in Article 5 at the political and military level 

President Donald Trump had repeatedly stated that NATO was "obsolete", arguing that the "mutual defense" under Article 5 of the NATO treaty actually made European NATO member states rest on the protection provided by the United States; thus the U.S. “has been taken advantage of”. He attempted to use “spending 2 percent of the GDP on defense” as a yardstick to determine whether the U.S. would continue to comply with Article 5," and later he even tried to raise this threshold to 4 percent of the GDP.

2. Unilateralism, mercantilism and "transactional" approach at the economic level

Donald Trump fundamentally questioned and even denied the meaning and value of globalization and trade freedom, defining the global trade system as "deeply flawed, outdated and imbalanced". Since taking office, he had proactively pushed the U.S. to withdraw from the existing international trade framework or forced the frameworks to be repeatedly revised toward "serving the U.S. interest better". As a result, he had pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and modified the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He had seriously hampered the normal functioning of the WTO and delayed the process of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and EU.

Because of the widening U.S. trade deficit with Europe ($169 billion in 2018, up 11.8% from 2017 and 77.1% from 2008), he had recourse to Section 301 of the US Trade Act of 1974 and Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to impose tariffs and non-tariff barriers on European products exported to the U.S., starting with the imposition of 25% and 10% tariffs on EU steel and aluminum products on June 1, 2018, which triggered the Europe-US trade war. 

He elevated the issue of trade deficit to the level of "national security", politicizing the U.S.-European trade dispute, while the European side believed that Trump "only sees the EU's surplus in goods trade, but ignores the huge U.S. surplus in services and other sectors." 

3. Withdrawals and threatened withdrawals from international cooperation frameworks upsets Europe 

A series of Trump’s withdrawals, including from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (Accord de Paris), the Iran Nuclear Agreement (JCPOA) (i.e., the Joint Comprehensive   Plan of Action), and UNESCO; his initiating the process of withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO) amid the COVID-19 pandemic; and his biases in favor of the former Benjamin Netanyahu government on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, had all greatly diverged from and contrasted with the EU position.

4. The greatest legacy of the Trump administration is EU’s mistrust in the reliability of the U.S. as an ally

"The unpredictability of its policies and the 'America First' logic have shaken the post-World War II global order and caused a rift in the relationship between the Western allies, i.e., between Europe and the United States."4 

5. "But it is not appropriate to exaggerate the impact of the so-called 'Trump rift' on U.S.-European relations"

In spite of his irresponsible comments, Trump as U.S. President had underlined the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Europe on many occasions. For instance, in the U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) in late 2017, he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Europe, stressing that "a strong and free Europe is of vital importance to the United States. We are bound together by our shared commitment to the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law [...].  The United States is safer when Europe is prosperous and stable, and can help defend our shared interests and ideals. The United States remains firmly committed to our European allies and partners. The NATO alliance of free and sovereign nations is one of our great advantages over our competitors, and the United States remains committed to Article 5 of the Washington Treaty".  The Pentagon's New National Defense Strategy (NDS) of February 2018 highlighted NATO's "strategic importance and value in addressing the major threats facing the United States". While listing Russia, China and Iran as America’s chief strategic adversaries in the new era, the Trump administration had continued to emphasize the importance of the EU and the U.S.-European alliance relationship. 

II. Europe's Outlook and Anticipations for U.S.-Europe Relations during Biden's Term

1. "They have a new president, but not a new country"

Most Europeans are happy with Joe Biden’s succeeding Donald Trump, but do not think the former can lead the U.S. to a comeback.

A Datapraxis / YouGov "pan-European poll" commissioned by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) in late 2020, based on 15,000 people in 11 European countries (the UK, Sweden, Portugal, Poland, the Netherlands, Italy, Hungary, France, Spain, Denmark, Germany), indicated that 53% of the respondents believed that "Biden's election has a positive effect on Europe" and 57% held that "it is good for the EU".

Meanwhile, only 27% disagreed with the statement that "Today's America is not worthy of Europe's trust". Only 32% believed that "Trumpism will not be resurrected in the United States".  When it comes to the statement that "Today's America is no longer trustworthy", the proportion of proponents was bigger than opponents in 9 out of 11 countries with the highest percentage counted in Germany (53%). Only Hungary and Poland were the exception.

As many as 61% of respondents deemed the U.S. political system as "completely or partially broken" (25% + 36 %), with the highest percentage in the UK (39 % + 42%), Denmark (19% + 52%), Germany (34% + 36%), and the Netherlands (27% + 41%). Major Western European countries such as Spain (25% + 42%) and France (27% + 39%) topped the list, while Poland (5% + 19%) and Hungary (7% + 21%) bottomed the list, which considered the U.S. political system to be "working well or relatively well" (48% + 10% and 46% + 10% respectively).

The richer "northern" countries in the EU generally lacked confidence in the U.S. In contrast, Eastern European countries still had a better perception and higher expectations of the U.S.

51% of respondents believed that the U.S. under Biden would have difficulty repairing internal divisions and would not take greater responsibility for European security issue.

2. "The rift will not heal so easily"

"The impact of the Trump administration on the EU, which cannot be underestimated, has made the EU more cautious in the face of U.S. demands". 

Despite deliberately using words and tones that are diametrically opposed to Trump's, Biden is trying to do an almost impossible thing, that is, he is eager to repair the U.S.-European relations damaged by Trump's greed for advantage, but reluctant to give up the advantage Trump has taken by damaging the U.S.-European relations. Biden's policy is simply "an extension of Trump's in disguise.” 8

3. Europe's priorities for U.S.-European relations during Biden's term

The top priority is the resolution of tariffs and trade disputes between the U.S. and Europe, as well as the issue of the global lowest corporate tax rate, followed by military spending, military cooperation and collective security mechanisms, carbon neutrality, how to regulate global technology giants and social media companies, how to reform major multilateral institutions such as the WTO and WHO, and how to better cope with the "challenges of the competitors." 

4. Europe’s General dissatisfaction with U.S. vaccine policy and the Afghan withdrawal process

In the former case, only Britain, which has already exited the EU, has not yet expressed any obvious dissatisfaction, while in the latter case, even British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace have publicly voiced their criticism.

5. For all these, the Europeans still hope to find a "common Western tipping point"

The Europeans hope that a "transatlantic or Western consensus" could be reached before negotiating with other countries. With a common position, they can conclude broader multilateral agreements. 

6. "There will be no going back to the past"

Senior government officials in both France and Germany have successively stated that "the most important thing for Europeans is that we should not want the future of Europe to be decided by the Americans." 

7. Five inescapable conflicts between the U.S. and Europe

-- The cross-party willingness of the United States to reduce its defense burden obligations to Europe versus the general desire of European countries to maintain low levels of defense spending;

--The U.S. bipartisan desire for "tough policy coordination against China based on shared values" versus the desire of the vast majority of major European governments to maintain independent and autonomous toward China to ensure their economic and trade interests with China.

--The U.S. bipartisan desire for a "shift in strategic pivot to the Indo-Pacific" versus the EU's desire to continue the transatlantic relationship as its strategic diplomatic focus.

--The U.S. continued emphasis on "ensuring American global leadership forever" versus the desire of European countries to see a multipolar world.

--Trump's rise and fall led to the U.S. foreign policies and strategies reshaped twice. This makes Europe begin to doubt the sustainability of U.S. transatlantic strategies and policies and whether they will be disrupted by the country’s electoral politics in the future.

III. European Integration during Biden's Term

1. Polls show that Europeans' faith in European integration has increased in the past two years

ECFR polls show that from January 2019 to January 2021, the perception of the EU has slightly improved in all major European countries except Hungary, the Netherlands and Spain (with the positive attitudes rising from 46% to 48% and the negative declining from 45% to 43%).

In terms of transatlantic relations and the international political landscape, Europeans can be categorized into four groups: Group A "In America We Trust" who think the U.S. is booming, while Europe is waning; Group B "In the West We Trust" who consider "America and Europe are as close as one family and will move forward together"; Group C “In Decline We Trust” who believe Europe and the U.S. are both in decline and other forces are rising; and Group D "In Europe We Trust" who maintain that Europe does not have to rely on the United States.

Group A is increasingly shrinking in proportion (9 %), with the highest percentages in Italy (22%), Poland (12%) and France (12%). They base their judgment on the assumption that "the U.S. has more global influence than Europe and holds the reins on a number of rules of the game, and that its current problems are only temporary.”

Group B takes up 20%, actually more than half of whom are beginning to question the declining power of the U.S. and Europe (53% of them hold that China is expected to overtake the U.S. within a decade), but still believe in the "superiority of the Western system". This group belong to the backbone of the age group in European countries (58% under 50 years old).

Group C accounts for 29%, 68% of whom believe that China will surpass the US in the next decade, with France (43%), the UK (42%), Spain (38%) and Italy (36%) possessing the highest percentages, and even up to 32% of whom expect that Russia will overtake the US in the next 10 years. This group generally has an older age structure (53% over 50 years old).

Group D, characterized by generally higher affluence and higher education levels, takes up the highest share (35%), with Denmark (60%), Germany (53%), Sweden (51%), and the Netherlands (50%) having the highest percentage. 

2. Europe desires to become a global actor onmore important issues through stronger integration

Europe generally believes that it has "gained dominance in the discourse" on climate change because of the regression of the U.S. in the Trump presidency, and hopes to replicate on issues such as the "digital tax" and the global flat tax rate.

3. The biggest resistance to EU integration comes within the EU

As EU’s two pillars -- France and Germany -- clash in strategic interests, French President Emmanuel Macron is eager to take the lead in the EU discourse after Merkel's retirement, about which German politics holds much skepticism. Many in Germany suspect that France's European policy is "based on anti-Americanism." Meanwhile, French political circle is concerned about the uncertainty of German post-Merkel politics.” 

European countries are generally dissatisfied with the inefficiency of the EU mechanism in responding to various crises, but are unwilling to sacrifice the sovereignty of member states in exchange for the improvement of the EU's administrative efficiency.

4. "It is better to rely on oneself than seek help from others"

The ECFR 2021 poll exhibits that, seven countries, including France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal, Hungary, Spain and Germany, did not choose the U.S. as the "most important international partner for building good international relations" (the majority of German respondents chose France, while the majority of respondents in the other six countries chose Germany). Sweden got an equal share. The UK, Poland, Italy and Sweden are the only four countries that chose the U.S., with the UK ranking the first in percentage (55%), owning to the country's consistent strategy of "alliance with the U.S. to contain the EU". The UK and Poland are the only two European countries where more than half of the respondents chose the US.

IV. Interactions between China and EU and Changes in the Bilateral Relations during Biden's Term

1. Changes in ECFR polls

In the ECFR 2019 poll, 14 European countries were surveyed (Poland, Denmark, Italy, the Czech Republic, France, Spain, Romania, Sweden, the Netherlands, Hungary, Germany, Slovakia, Greece, and Austria). When asked "Which side Europe should take in the future be there a confrontation between China and the US", the overwhelming majority of respondents chose "impartial", with the highest percentage 83% (Austria) and the lowest 54% (Poland). The highest percentage of those who chose "siding with the US" was only 24% (Poland) and the lowest was barely 4% (Austria). The highest percentage of those who chose "siding with China" was 8% (Slovakia) and the lowest 4% (Sweden). Among the 14 countries, 12 had a higher proportion of choosing the U.S. than China, which were Poland, Denmark, Italy, the Czech Republic, Spain, Romania, Sweden, the Netherlands, Hungary, and Greece, with the most dramatic difference being 18 percentage points (Poland) and the lowest only 1 percentage point (Greece). The only country with a higher percentage of supporting China than the US was Austria, with a difference of two percentage points, while Slovakia has an equal percentage for both, at 8%.

None of these 14 countries believed that "Europe is well prepared to defend itself against Chinese trade competition" (the highest percentage of supporters for this view was 18% in Austria and the lowest 4% in France). 

The ECFR 2021 polls show that "the political transition in Washington do not seem to have fundamentally changed respondents' views on geopolitical alliances." When asked the same question in all 11 countries surveyed, 60% of the respondents answered "Europe should be impartial", 22% supported "siding with the US" and 6% "siding with China". By country, the highest percentage of respondents choosing "impartial" was 68% (Hungary), the lowest 50% (Poland, Denmark). The highest percentage of respondents who answered "siding with the U.S." was in Denmark (35%), and the lowest Hungary (13%). The highest percentage of respondents who supported "siding with China" was in the Netherlands (10%) and the lowest in the UK (2%).

An analysis on these two ECFR polls suggests that, while both the EU and the US are showing a tough stance toward China, their long-term goals are different: the U.S. aims to "containing China" and "decoupling China", while Europe still wants to "bring China back to a rules-based system”.

The underlying reason for this trend is that Europe has "long been accustomed to standing on the winner side," which is why they had sided with the US in “Cold War 1.0,” but many Europeans fear that once “Cold War 2.0” breaks out, the US may not turn out to be a winner.

2. Disapproval of "America First"

Most European analysts believe that Biden has not restored the U.S. global strategic positioning to that under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. They think that "the United States, no longer the world's only superpower, should seek to maintain its global leadership through proactive integration into a diverse and globalized world." But unfortunately, Joe Biden has virtually upheld Trump's "America First" doctrine, and even intensified Trump’s aggressiveness in ideology. Overall, Europe disapproves of this de facto "America First" logic. What Europe wants is "a kind of relationship with the U.S. built on 'courtesy and civility’”. 

3. European views on various cooperation frameworks between China and EU 

--The FTA negotiations between China and Europe are "out of time". Even if the negotiation process is managed to kick off, it is unlikely to yield positive results in a short period of time.

--Despite the general discomfort with China's March 2020 countermeasures to "EU human rights sanctions", Brussels and EU governments, on the whole, do not share the European Parliament's view that "CAI will never be approved unless China meets European demands on human rights issues”. Merkel, Macron and even NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg have made it clear that they do not want a return to the "new Cold War". 

--The CAI will eventually be ratified because Brussels and most EU member governments support it. Besides, the main thrust of the agreement is to regulate Chinese investment in Europe and secure EU investment interests in China. But the current climate makes it difficult to get the process started immediately.

--The mainstream European opinion is that the EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy should continue to be administered and efforts should be made to bring it under "European controllable and acceptable rules". In this case, both the CAI and the Belt and Road Initiative should be regarded with a positive and cautious attitude, rather than with the approach of cut-off, exclusion and isolation of China advocated by the US.

--Since the "Chinese development model" is unappealing to the EU, the EU policy makers are torn over whether the new China-EU trade agreement means "a classic showcase of European autonomy and strength" or it has "fallen for the Chinese ploy to alienate Europe and the U.S." 

--European countries have not yet come up with a clear guideline on how to assess "Chinese influence" on its defense, which is manifested in its worrying that rushing to participate in joint U.S.-sponsored military operations such as "free navigation in the South China Sea” might enrage China and fearing that Europe’s transatlantic security interests might be compromised by a shift in U.S. strategic focus.

--It is noteworthy that the EU's official terms for its relationship with China has changed: from "maturing partnership" in 2003, "partner in a changing relationship" in 2006, relationship of "reciprocal benefit" in 2016, which was "based on a positive agenda of partnership coupled with the constructive management of differences", to "a strategic competitor for the EU while failing to reciprocate market access and maintain a level playing field" in 2019. 

--There is a lack of a "G3" mechanism between Europe, the U.S. and China. The US-EU Dialogue on China since its launch in October 2020 has been denounced by China, and fierce controversy has emerged in Europe over the consensus documents released from this dialogue. The prescription that "for the EU, China is a negotiating partner for cooperation, an economic competitor, and a systemic rival"    is perceived as entangled and self-contradictory.

--The root for the European entanglement lies in the changing context of the Europe-China dialogue under the influence of four factors as follows: a) more economic primacy shifted to China since the 2008 global economic crisis, which has rendered China more assertive and Europe weaker in international exchanges; b) the expansion of the EU, which has made it more complex internally and its original mechanisms less effective; c) the Brexit and the rise of skepticism about EU integration, which have diluted European strength and changed the mentality of European policy makers; d) Trump's "America First" policy, which has thrown Europe into the dilemma of "having to choose between China and the US" while Europe is not fully prepared for this.  

--Europe has, for long, believed in the universality of "European values" and attractiveness of "European model". Therefore, they have confidence that "through dialogues and economic and trade cooperation, China will be pushed to change toward the direction Europe desires". That is why, when it became more and more clear in recent years that this was not the case, Europe reacted with an outrage that China found difficult to understand. However, the COVID-19 epidemic has also impressed upon Europe that in areas such as public health and the environment, "there is no alternative but to continue cooperation with China", and that "China's economy will return to growth of more than 2.5% by the end of 2021 in spite of the epidemic, while Europe is likely to get into recession" (as IMF forecast)." They have also realized that "Europe has no better way out than to carry out pragmatic cooperation with China. This is especially true when China has introduced the concept of 'double cycle', which may result in a harsh reality that China is getting weightier to the EU while the EU lighter to China.”  

V. Problems and Challenges Facing China-EU Relations in the New Era

1. "China's development has undermined the key assumption of the EU's China policy"

The EU's traditional policy towards China is grounded on the key assumption that "despite the drastic political and values differences, the EU has the hardware such as technology, capital, equipment and talents, and the software such as institutions, systems, regulations, standards and experience which are appealing enough to China, and that engagement with China is conducive to helping it get around to the Europe-desired direction in a better and faster way, and therefore this kind of engagement and cooperation is justifiable". In addition, quite a lot of Europeans have the so-called "humanistic superiority complex", considering that "as China is poor and backward, Europe, as the advanced party, has the charitable obligation to help the laggards". 

This mindset has been reflected in the 2006 programmatic document of the European Commission to the European Council, titled "EU-China: Closer Partners, Growing Responsibilities". The statement had been clear that "the EU should continue to facilitate China's internal political and economic reform, support a strong and stable China that fully respects fundamental rights and freedoms, protects minorities, safeguards the rule of law. The EU will strengthen its cooperation to ensure sustainable development, pursue a fair and robust trade policy, and work to consolidate and balance bilateral relations. The EU and China should work together to support peace and stability. The EU should strengthen coordination and joint action". 

2. China has once applied "differential treatment" to the EU

--China's strategy of "hiding its capacities and biding its time” had convinced Europe that China was "at least willing to listen to the voices from Europe".

--Europe was more willing to provide China with the key technologies which it desperately needed but the US imposed heavy restrictions on, encouraging China to treat Europe differentially.

--Europe had for a long time been more tolerant and open to Chinese investment, M&A and infrastructure participation.

--The inadequacy of coordination mechanisms in the EU and the obvious disparities in the policies of different European countries allowed China to maintain confidence in the "differential treatment" for a while.

3. Alterations during Trump's term

--The trend of "speaking with one voice to China" has grown with the increased presence of the European External Action Service (EEAS) , especially the convergence of the positions of several major powers. In this case, it becomes more difficult for China to expand its influence by exploiting "intra-European policy differences".

--Trump's isolationist, egoistic and protectionist policies have forced Europe to "choose sides", i.e., “to stand either by the US for security, or China for greater economic gains.” The additional tariffs on steel and aluminum imposed by the US from February 2018 seemed to give China a glimpse of a possible breakthrough by means of the "differential treatment" towards Europe. The most important manifestation of this was the declaration in the joint statement of the China-EU Summit in Beijing in July 2018. “We are resolutely committed to building an open world economy, promoting trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, resisting protectionism and unilateralism, and pushing globalization toward a more open, balanced, inclusive and win-win direction".  However, with the "package deal" reached between Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission President and Trump in the same month, the EU quickly fell to the U.S. side in the trade war.  

4. Differences in key Chinese and European policies getting explicit

Europe believes that there are four key principles of China's official policy towards Europe: 

Uphold mutual respect, equality and the one China principle to cement the most important political foundation of China-EU relations. Uphold openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation, and strengthen exchanges in development philosophy and coordination of development plans. Uphold fairness and justice, stick together in trying times, and join hands to improve the global governance system. Uphold inter-civilization dialogue and harmony in diversity to facilitate mutual learning between the Chinese and European civilizations.  

The EU's current and future actions toward China involve three objectives: first, based on clearly defined interests and principles, the EU should deepen its engagement with China to promote common interests at the global level; second, the EU should robustly seek more balanced and reciprocal conditions governing the economic relationship; third, in order to maintain its long-term prosperity, values and social model, there are areas where the EU itself needs to adapt to changing economic realities and strengthen its own domestic policies and industrial base.   To fulfill the “three objectives”, a concrete plan is proposed (working with China to support effective multilateralism and combat climate change; working for international peace, security and sustainable economic development; achieving more balanced and mutually beneficial trade and investment relationship; strengthening the EU's competitiveness and ensuring a level playing field; and enhancing the security of critical infrastructure and technology base).

In comparison, China's principles are more outlined and conceptualized, with a positive tone, and suitable for adding different details and interpretations at different times, while the European ones are actually more specific and utilitarian, with two "self-interest goals": "competitiveness and infrastructure security". So long as China-EU economic and trade relations were developing smoothly and China's "volume" had not yet aroused European concerns and China maintained sufficient "humble manners", the mainstream European view would be that "the development of EU-China relations is beneficial, or at least more beneficial than harmful, for Europe to fulfill its three main objectives.”

But Trump's policy had squeezed the space for flexibility in European policy towards China. In the meantime, since 2010-2020, China-EU trade volume had increased from about €350 billion to €560 billion. China's trade surplus with Europe had remained in the order of €100 billion. China's direct investment in Europe had peaked and fallen significantly since 2015, while Europe's direct investment in China had been in "stagnation" for a long time.   

This is frustrating for many analysts and policy makers in Europe because it means that China is not an ideal investment partner; it is a "colossal trading partner but imbalanced". Meanwhile, for Europe to implement trade and technology cooperation and mutual openness with China, there is another important argument, namely, China can become a great partner in research and knowledge, complementing Europe in areas such as artificial intelligence and public health. Now this argument is gradually becoming "less attractive and less convincing" due to the tightening of US policy space, plus the rise of Chinese competitiveness and changes in China's domestic investment policy. 

5. The new situation of the alignment between European and American policies toward China during Biden's term

--The EU does not see eye to eye with the US’s cross-party, "feverish and exaggerated consensus" that the world's largest economy is about to be overtaken by the second largest economy, so neither Trump nor Biden can really convince the EU to go along with the U.S.

--The progressive decreasing of confidence within Europe in aforementioned "assumption" that China was willing to change in line with European wishes and that maintaining cooperation and engagement with China would help facilitate this change has prompted Europe to take more frequent and aggressive actions toward China in the "new three aspects" (public opinion, human rights, and values), which cannot be simply interpreted as "pressured by the US".

--In contrast to Trump, the Biden administration and the Democrats, who are keener on "ideological diplomacy", keep strengthening international interactions with China based on the so-called "shared values", with Europe being one of their focuses. This is inevitably translated into the fact that the aligned European and American policies toward China will point more directly to the "values" and "ideology", showing a distinctive feature of "incurring relatively limited damage, but harsher and more insulting”.

--There is little evidence that China cares about the tone of European condemnation", which may stimulate Europe, especially the European Parliament in Strasbourg and national legislatures, to "shout" at China at a higher pitch in a short time."

6. Issues like the COVID-19 epidemic and climate change make Europe realize that it has no choice but to cooperate with China

First, "epidemics know no borders"; second, the pandemic and its impact on the European economy is greater than on China’s; third, "double cycle" introduced in China has increased Europe's sense of crisis. “The EU can of course defend its values, but the epidemic makes this option formidably costly". 

VI. Trends in France's European policy

1. Changes in the internal pattern of the EU against the background of Brexit, Merkel's retirement and Biden's assuming power

Britain's exit from the EU deprives the U.S. of a key pivot point to hold the EU's strategy and policy in check. The gist of U.S. policy is to pin down Germany, even willing to compromise, when necessary (e.g., moderating its hardline position on the Russia-Germany Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline project), and by taking advantage of the "Russophobia" of the Central and Eastern European countries, to strengthen the new pro-U.S. bloc within the EU, and to persuade the EU and NATO countries to synchronize their policies with those of the United States using the "common values" slogan.

Merkel's withdrawal will lead to great policy uncertainty in Germany, one of the two pillars of the EU. It implies that Germany's diplomacy and strategy toward China, which has been characterized by pragmatism, prudence and focus on economic interests for the past 20 years, might undergo significant changes. A series of uncertainties might occur, and the voice of "human rights diplomacy" will be considerably amplified.

Traditionally, Germany has been pushing for the "concretization of the EU" and promoting efficiency of EU decision-making. Such reforms, which are considered to be more beneficial to the EU's concrete economy and to Germany, the largest exporter, especially, rather than to the smaller countries, have thus evoked the latter’s negative response to EU integration. Merkel's retirement will reduce the resistance to EU integration on the one hand, but may bring Brussels' efforts to improve the administrative efficiency of EU institutions to a waste half way, on the other.

2. How would the Macron government respond to such a change?

--Macron is more active and enthusiastic about the EU and European issues than his predecessor François Hollande.

--The Brexit would turn down the voices in the EU that advocate a free economy and turn up those that call for greater protectionism and a more active industrial policy. Macron favors the latter.

-- As France will hold the EU presidency in 2022 and the French elections are scheduled for April 2022, Macron is bound to use his EU presidency to campaign for himself as much as possible. He may choose the Digital Tax or the Digital Services Tax as an entry to help France gain influence over Europe and the world by setting global standards for large technology companies, thereby boosting his own support at home. If this entry is deemed too risky, he may shift to the environmental issues.

--In recent years, the "French element" has been significantly enhanced in the European framework as three key figures in EU policy and decision-making are all French: Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank; Thierry Breton, EU Market Commissioner; Olivier Guersent, Director General of the European Commission's Directorate General for Competition. Another three figures of even more heavyweight --Ursula von der Leyen (German), President of the European Commission, Charles Michel (Belgian), President of the European Council, and Josep Borrell Fontelles (Catalan from Spain), EU Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, are widely recognized as being closer to the French position regarding European policy than that of their own motherland, although none of them are French.

--Macron has once outlined his European advocacy as "autonomie stratégique (strategic autonomy)."  And the French and German governments have also launched a strategy of "prioritizing the training of European champions”, seeking to enhance the core competitiveness of Europe by liberalizing the merger of industrial giants within the EU, and to consolidate the French or French-German decision-making and discourse power in EU.  

-- Macron has been endeavoring to win more leadership for France in the EU foreign policy arena, by promoting the creation of a new "European Peace Fund" and by pushing for this fund to be prioritized for projects and interest of France.

--Macron criticized the EU mechanism as "too dodgy and bureaucratic (lentes et trop bureaucratiques)", saying that "my core desire is to reform our institutions to make them more efficient, more effective and more rapid (au cœur de la présidence française la volonté de réformer nos institutions pour les rendre plus efficaces et plus rapides)”.  

-- Macron argues that the EU presidency rotates every six months, which is so quick that "the influence of the presidency state over the EU policy and institutional reform is quite limited."  

--Despite the immense resistance and obstacle, Charles Grant, Director of the Center for European Reform (CER), quoted an anonymous former senior Elysée staffer as saying that Macron's "boldness and confidence are extraordinary". 

VII. Macron's government’s and France's strategy and policy towards China, and the changes

1. "China is not a priority enemy"

In 2019, Macron publicly declared that NATO was "brain dead".  On the eve of the NATO leaders' summit in Britain in June this year, he responded to the U.S. attempt to steer the conversation by saying that NATO "needs to know who and where the enemy is" and must "take into account the geography of Europe". He stated clearly that "China is not a priority (enemy) target (for NATO)," pointing out that "NATO is a military organization, and the main part of our relations with China is not confined to the military aspect only" and that "NATO, by definition, is an organization that involves the North Atlantic, and China has nothing to do with it;” “so, I think it's very important that we should not distract ourselves and should not prejudice against China in our relationship with it.”  

But at the same time Macron is one of the rare French presidents who pays more attention to NATO's common defense obligations. NATO stipulates that member states' defense spending should not be less than 2% of the GDP. Only 8 of the 21 NATO EU member states have met the threshold, not including Italy, Germany and Spain, but France has. 

2. More positive attitude towards strengthening China-EU economic and trade cooperation and the China-EU Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI)

Macron advocates an open attitude towards investment and project cooperation that come from China and supports the signing of the CAI, but at the same time promotes the implementation of the EU's "foreign investment review policy" effected from October 2020  in an attempt to "negotiate with China with one voice and one position” so that the EU countries wouldn’t be divided and broken separately by China". He also seeks to foster "European champions" in key industries by teaming up with Germany so as to break the EU's current anti-trust rut and create a European industrial giant that can compete with China. 

Macron vigorously stresses "mutual benefits" and "opposition to unilateral unfair practices". By the so-called "mutual benefit", he means, in essence, his desire to reduce the trade deficit of France and the EU with China by working into the Chinese government procurement system; and by the so-called "opposition to unilateral unfair practices" he actually means urging China to open more key areas to French and EU capital.

3. Macron slams China on issues such as human rights, which is fiercer than most Fifth Republic presidents

In an interview with the British media, he violently attacked China's domestic policies.  He publicly emphasized "crushing authoritarianism with democratic authority (Face à l'autoritarisme, la seule réponse qui vaille est l 'autorité de la démocratie)”. He claimed that “only efficiency and speed can make democracy win (ne se gagne que par l'efficacité et la vitesse)”. He called Strasbourg, the seat of the European Parliament, "the beating heart of European democracy (C'est ici que bat le cœur de la démocratie européenne)". 

VIII. Implication of the April 2022 General Election on France

1. General election schedule

First round on April 10, 2022.

Second round on April 24, 2022 (if no one receives more than half of the votes in the first round).

2. Enrollment of candidates

Up till now, the officially registered candidates are Nathalie Arthaud (Lutte Ouvrière, "Workers' Struggle", deep left);François Asselineau (Union populaire républicaine, nationalist, advocating for France exiting from the EU); Xavier Bertrand (Divers droite, "Convergence of Power", center right); Nicolas Dupont-Aignan ("Debout la France” France Stands Up, right to center right, Eurosceptic); Jean Lassalle (Resistons, centrist); Marine Le Pen (Rassemblement national, Eurosceptic, far right); Jean-Frédéric Poisson, (“People’s Road” VIA, right to center-right, Catholic values); Philippe Poutou, (New Anti-Capitalist, NPA, deep left); Jean-Luc Mélenchon ("La France insoumise", deep left); Fabien Roussel (French Communist Party, left to center-left); and Florian Philippot (Patriotes, far right).  

The major traditional center-right party -- Les Républicains (Charles de Gaulle), the major center-left party-- the Socialist Party (PS), and Macron's ruling party -- the LREM, have not officially registered to run in the election yet because they have not completed the party's primary process, and will not enroll until the sole presidential candidates selected.

3. Election situation

Because of the unpopular response to COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the “Mouvement des gilets jaunes (Yellow Vest)”, Macron and his ruling party do not have a high popularity rating. A Harris Interactive pour Commstrat poll published on March 8 showed that Macron and Marine Le Pen would both enter the second round of the runoff, with the former narrowly winning by 53% to 47%.  But an earlier analysis in Libération even suggested that Macron would lose to Marine Le Pen in the runoff.  

Traditionally, presidential elections in the Fifth Republic era have been characterized by the "sacrificing the rook to save the king” effect, whereby when a center-left, centrist or center-right traditional party candidate has to face off against a deep-left or far-right candidate in the runoff, the vast majority of the losing mainstream party candidates would call on their supporters to vote for the traditional party candidate. As a result, the far-right National Front candidates have been "overturned" in several runoffs, as was the case in 2017.

But as is shown in this poll, this effect will be rather diminshed in 2022 elections. Analysis suggests that this is due to the widespread controversy over Macron's three major policies (labor welfare system reform, response to the "yellow vest movement" and restrictive measures to deal with COVID-19 pandemic). However, some senior analysts insist that it is important not to put too much weight on the early polls' results, "because it is proved that most of the first-round candidates will be winnowed out. Voters will not have finalized their voting intentions until the primary results are known.” Therefore, "the specificity of the polls should not be taken too seriously.” 

4. The impact of the election on French policy

If Macron is re-elected, France's current domestic and foreign policies will be sustained, but as the vote share is too close, the new government will adjust those controversial policies such as labor contracts, social welfare reform, and epidemic response measures, as well as lowering the tone of its discourse on European affairs.

If Marine Le Pen gets a shock win, France will change its European policy completely in at least 5 years and shift to a "France First" approach similar to Trump's "America First" policy.

In this election, the political parties and candidates do not make “China topic” as their major election rhetoric.

If Macron is re-elected, France's policy toward China will keep up its current tone; if Marine Le Pen wins, France will move toward an isolationist and populist policy orientation of "anti-globalization" and "anti-free trade", which will have a serious adverse impact on all trade partners, including China, and the EU's trade policy with China will tend to be negative. However, given the isolationist tradition of the National Front, once it wins the election, its accusations against China's "human rights" and "values" will be significantly dropped down.

IX. Suggestions and Responses

--The current approach of China to Europe and France is "refutation first, argumentation second", which should be changed to "emphasizing both argumentation and refutation”. At this stage we should underscore "argumentation", i.e., positively and systematically expound our views, opinions, concerns and reasons, and stress "science popularization" and "translation" when making "argument". In other words, we should “explain and interpret in a language and logic that can get across easily and be well-accepted".

--We must fully understand that it is “mutual benefits” that Europe and France have continued maintaining, developing and strengthening relations with China for. Therefore, we must make efforts to build and strengthen a "community of common interests", so as to increase the persuasiveness of those who support the development of relations between the two sides. We mustn’t do things that seem to be "letting off our anger", but in effect driving away the fish for the abyss and the birds for the bush.

-- We should make up for our inadequacy in Europe- and France-related information acquisition and exchange, so as to be better acquainted with the influential opposition parties, national legislatures, civil representatives and brilliant NGOs in Europe and each European state. We should learn from them, getting used to "bringing our ears" and "using our minds", instead of “just taking our mouths".

-- We must be fully informed that many European and French opinions, ideas, policies and measures on China-related issues, whether "positive" or "negative", are mainly driven by their “endogenous power”. The "U.S. factor" ranks the second or even much lesser place. Failure to grasp this may lead to many wrong analyses, judgments and decisions, even critically and directionally wrong. In no way are there only "America", "China" and "foreign countries" in the world.

--We should correctly understand and deal with the "values rhetoric" of Europe and France, and establish a set of mature and efficient response "template" to safeguard China’s national dignity in a reasonable, favorable, and appropriate manner. At the same time, we must avoid getting into inefficient and tiresome "verbal lawsuits", so that we can concentrate on the big, real issues at stake for both sides. (End)


  1. Foundation Robert-Schuman: Report European Issue N.545, Anna Dimitrova, Associate Professor of International affairs at ESSCA School of Management (Paris).

  2.  Section 232 investigations: overview and issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, CRS report R45249, April 2019 [25]"Transatlantic Relations: US Interests and Key Issues", Congressional Research Service, CRS report R45745, 31 May 2019.

  3.  Alina Polyakova and Benjamin Haddad, "Europe alone: what comes after the transatlantic alliance", Foreign Affairs, July/August 2019.

  4.  Ian Bond, Director of Foreign Policy at the Center for European Reform (CER), 19 Jan 2021.

  5.  National Security Strategy of the United States of America, The White House, December 2017.

  6.  Summary of the National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge, Department of Defense, 2018.

  7.  Jeremy Shapiro, "The everyday and the existential: How Clinton and Trump challenge transatlantic relations", European Council on Foreign Relations, October 2016.

  8.  Diplomatie: «Mirage d’Amérique», L’éditorial du Figaro, par Patrick Saint-Paul, Publié le 12/08/2021.

  9.  Jana Puglierin, Berlin director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, 14 Jun 2021.

  10.  Jana Puglierin, Berlin director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, 14 Jun 2021.

  11.  As is said by Clement Beaune, French Minister for European Affairs.

  12.  European Council on Foreign relations, ectf.eu.

  13.  Michel Duclos, former French ambassador to Syria.

  14.  Give the people what they want: Popular demand for a strong European foreign policy, Susi Dennison, director of ECFR’s European Power programme, 10 Sep 2019.

  15.  François Heisbourg, Senior Advisor for European Policy, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), France, 06 Jun 2021.

  16.  Dr. Sven Biscop, Director of the Europe in the World Programme at the Egmont– Royal Institute for International Relations in Brussels.

  17.  Kristine Berzina, German Marshall Fund of the United States, 19 Jan 2021.

  18.  European Commission, “EU China Relations: Commission Sets out its Strategy”.

  19.  A New EU-US Agenda for Global Change, European Commission to the Parliament, European Council, and EU members in December 2020.

  20.  EU-China Strategic Outlook, European Commission, 12 March 2019.

  21.  European Commission, “Key elements of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment,” 30 Dec 2020.

  22.  The EU and China in 2021: Separate Discourses, Similar or Different Aims, Kerry Brown, Professor of Chinese Studies and Director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College, London.

  23.  The EU and China in 2021: Separate Discourses, Similar or Different Aims? Kerry Brown, current Professor of Chinese Studies and Director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College, London.

  24.  European Commission, “EU-China: A Strategic Outlook,” 12 March 2019.

  25.  https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage_fr.

  26.  EU-China summit, Beijing, 16 July 2018, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/international-summit/2018/07/16/

  27.  Joint U.S.-EU Statement following President Juncker's visit to the White House, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_18_4687.

  28.  “Full text of China’s Policy Paper on the European Union,” Xinhuanet, 18 Dec 2018.

  29.  European Commission, “EU-China: A Strategic Outlook.”

  30.  EU trade in goods with China, 2008-2019, Source Eurostat (online data code: ext_eu21_2019sitc:and DS-018995).

  31.  China in the EU Foreign direct investment into the 28 member states, Source Rhodium Group.

  32.  IMF: World Economic Outlook, 28 Aug 2021.

  33.  Initiative pour l’Europe - Discours d’Emmanuel Macron pour une Europe souveraine, unie, démocratique, le 26 sep 2017.

  34.  National Industrial Strategy 2030, Peter Altmaier, German Economy Minister, 05 Feb 2019.

  35.  Le Parisien, interviewé par Rosalie Lucas, le 29 avril 2021.

  36.  Edouard Simon, Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IRIS) in France, April 30, 2021.

  37.  MACRON'S EUROPE, Charles Grant,01 June 2021, https://www.cer.eu/publications/archive/bulletin-article/2021/macrons-europe

  38.  « Ce qu'on est en train de vivre, c'est la mort cérébrale de l'OTAN », Economist, 11 Jul 2019

  39.  « ne pas confondre les objectifs », « L’Otan est une organisation militaire, le sujet de notre rapport à la Chine n’est pas que militaire. L’Otan est une organisation (...) qui concerne l’Atlantique nord, la Chine a peu à voir avec l'Atlantique nord », « Et donc je pense qu'il est très important de ne pas nous disperser et de ne pas biaiser le rapport à la Chine. » , La conférence de presse d’Emmanuel Macron, le 10 Jun 2021

  40.  Avec AFP, le 14 Jun 2021.

  41.  EU foreign investment screening mechanism becomes fully operational, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_1867

  42.  Victor Mallet and Roula Khalaf, “FT Interview: Emmanuel Macron says it is time to think the unthinkable,” Financial Times, April 17, 2020, https://www.ft.com/content/3ea8d790-7fd1-11ea-8fdb-7ec06edeef84.

  43.  lancement à Strasbourg de la Conférence sur l’avenir de l’Europe, le 09 mai 2021.

  44.  As of August 26, 2021.

  45.  Un sondage donne Macron-Le Pen à 53-47 au second tour de 2022, sur bfmtv.com (consulté le 7 avril 2021).

  46.   « Macron-Le Pen : le barrage mal barré », Charlotte Belaïch et Rachid Laïreche, sur liberation.fr, consulté le 7 avril 2021.

  47.  Bruno Jeudy, BFMTV.

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