French-German double game paves the way for China to become a regional hegemon

4 min read

Despite the fact that a number of platforms of cooperation aimed at developing mutually beneficial relations between the European Union or its regions and China have been established in recent years such as the China-CEEC cooperation mechanism, the bloc seems to be unable to find profitable and sustainable ways of trade and a broadly acceptable political approach towards China.

The EU’s inability to find optimal solutions towards China including the approval of a common European China strategy is largely due to the double game played by the bloc’s two dominant economic and political powers, Germany and France.

Disagreement on energy-related issues between these two influential EU countries is not only a decisive factor in their rivalry, but also has implications for relations with China. In a nutshell: while the French prefer nuclear energy, the Germans would rather use more renewables, and this is where China enters the scene. The growing presence of Chinese companies in Europe is good for Germany and its companies not only because it is an excellent business for them but also because rival France is losing out with it.

At this point, it should be noted that President Macron’s attempts to play a more dominant role in Europe or even in the world, as seen in his intention to mediate between China and the two sides of the war in Ukraine, can be explained as attempts to compensate the sad truth that the room for France’s manoeuvre in making beneficial deals in the EU has obviously been shrinking with the mass appearance of Chinese companies in European markets of renewables.

In a perfect world, the issue of discussions with China should not be a political taboo as several countries are clearly ready to maintain relations with Beijing. Not with the aim of glorifying the aggressor Russia, but all you have to do is look eastwards to see that newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first official trip was to Beijing, and the symbolism of first official presidential visits is obvious. Certainly, one should not forget what serious difficulties Putin is facing due to the protracted war in Ukraine, as far as the Russian economy is concerned. In other words, even Vladimir Putin was willing to pay a visit to China to discuss cooperation, putting his country’s interests first and his own ego second, taking the risk of spreading of views such as ’China has made Russia its junior partner’, as Zeit concluded.

Some countries, mainly the smaller ones, look at China with fear and exclude Chinese companies from projects that are critical for national security, such as 5G network services. However, the ban on Chinese social media app Tiktok was implemented not only in Estonia but even in Australia and the United States. Some European countries, including France, banned the app on the work phones of civil cervants.

Cooperation with China does indeed have its dangers – let’s call them risks that should be handled -, but it is also a fact that the Asian country has become a major player in many areas. During the coronavirus pandemic, Europe realised that almost 100% of medical masks came. to the EU from China. By now, it is Chinese companies that dominate the European markets for solar panels, wind turbines, EVs and other products. The mass influx of cheep Chinese products is related to a plan of the EU to increase renewable energy to at least 42.5% of consumption by 2030. It is clear by now that the bloc could not avoid reliance on cheep Chinese alternatives.

However, the main question is not if there is any threat on behalf of China such as market distortion or national security threats, etc. but how to manage that threat while pursuing European interests – and this is the approach Europe lacks today. It is worth noting that this is why it is easier to scare Europeans with the vision of an upcoming attack of the Chinese dragon and an impending trade war

Note that back in the 1970s in the U.S., it was the brilliant mind of Henry Kissinger that was needed to put China on the map and then, in line with the American interests, to exploit the potential of the relationship. It is exactly this genius that is missing in European politics today.

Let’s first focus on Ursula von der Leyen. The President of the European Commission is really good at uttering platitudes, but all she could say about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent official visit to Paris was such empty phrases as ’Europe will not waver from making tough decisions needed to protect its economy and security’,’The European Union cannot absorb massive over-production of Chinese industrial goods flooding its market’, and, that ’Beijing should use all its influence on Russia to end its war of aggression against Ukraine.

Apologies to VDL, but, frankly, this is pretty far from the strategic mindset of Kissinger.

The news about a ’clandestine meeting’ between the French President and Germany’s Chancellor the night before Macron met Xi is as rubbish as the news that French cognac exports were a major topic of discussion at the meeting between the French and Chinese leaders. However, the main problem is that these reports were meant as a cover story by the French and German leaders, who just fooled European citizens. The meeting between Macron and Scholz should have cover hot issues such as money, economy and defence – defence here means arms manufacturing, that is, economy and profit again -, and political issues that concern both sides, such as the surge of the far right in the EU.

Instead of telling the truth, Macron and Scholz suggested that their meeting was something private: this time, a French dinner together with the spouses, and a boat trip in the harbour of Hamburg with herring sandwiches last October. As for the Macron-Xi meeting, it is worth quoting Reuter’s report saying ’after a dinner at the Elysee Palace, Macron will take Xi to the Pyrenees on Tuesday, a mountainous region dear to the French president as the birthplace of his maternal grandmother’ – sounds like a fairy tale.

To be honest, reality is far from a fairy tale. The fact that Emmanuel Macron of France plays a soft game with China in political terms while Germany’s Olaf Scholz is quite tolerant of Beijing in terms of business is based on trivial domestic political interests, in both countries. In France, which suffers from an underperforming economy and mass migration, Macron has no other choice but to distract the attention of the increasingly frustrated French people from these domestic problems therefore he had better present himself as a global player. The situation is very similar in Germany, where public discontent with the ’traffic light’ coalition is even greater.

Ultimately, it is the European Union that is paying the price: the two rival European countries, in order to gain and secure their own advantages, are ready to provide China with deals that might have an adverse effect on the EU as a whole and can also be unfavourable for other Member States. What China’s Xi is doing is to take advantage of the traditional French political openness offered by Macron and the commercial benefits provided by the Germans.

This very French-German double game has led to the EU now facing Chinese companies taking control over entire industries and conquring entire markets in Europe in areas such as wind turbines, solar panels and EVs.

’The relationship with China has become more difficult. (…) China is now exporting massively subsidized electric cars, wind turbines and solar technology to Europe. The EU Commission wants to intervene and China hopes that the Germans could perhaps have a moderating effect’, the German Zeit pointed out. The newspaper also claimed that’in the European Union, Germany is China’s closest friend and China depends on Germany’s political support.’

Finally, it should also be mentioned that, for an unknown reason, Brussels applies a double standard towards the bloc’s members when it comes to cooperation with China: while Paris and Berlin are free to enter into negotiations with Beijing along their own national interests, it strongly condemns similar efforts by other, let’s say, less influential EU Member States. This approach is good for nothing but to pave the way for China to become a regional hegemon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This website uses cookies to provide user authentication. Please indicate whether you consent to our site placing cookies on your device and agree with our Privacy Policy. To find out more, please read our Privacy and Cookie Policy