Between China and the USA

SHANGHAI/BERLIN/PARIS (Own report) - Franco-German disagreements are accompanying French President Emmanuel Macron's current trip to China, where he is assuming the role of a leading EU representative. He is promoting a speedy conclusion of an economic treaty between the Union and the People's Republic. He is accompanied by the Union's designated Trade Commissioner, Phil Hogan and Germany's Minister of Education and Research Anja Karliczek. This is his way of seeking to lay the groundwork for a unified EU policy regarding China - contrary to Germany's pursuit of its national interests in its relationship to Beijing. Germany usually seeks a common approach toward the People's Republic of China, when other EU countries, such as Greece or Italy, begin to closely cooperate with China within the framework of the "New Silk Road" project. Macron is making an effort to set both confrontational and cooperative EU policies toward Beijing, and thereby position the Union on an equal footing between the USA and China.

Berlin's Unilateralism

President Emmanuel Macron's current trip to China must be seen in the context of Franco-German disagreements. Berlin, which insists upon EU members abiding by a coordinated, unified approach, whenever it serves Germany, traditionally orients its own policy toward China along the lines of German national interests. The German government insists that Beijing must adhere to a "One-Europe Policy" - as Germany's foreign minister at the time, Sigmar Gabriel demanded in August 2017 [1] - only when other EU countries also take an independent approach in their dealing with China, such as when Greece or Italy joined the mega "Belt and Road Initiative" (BRI) project. Since some time, the French president has endeavored to put an end to Berlin's unilateral approach toward China. He had, for example, invited Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker to Paris in late March, for a meeting with China's President Xi Jinping. At the time, Macron had declared, in reference to Beijing, we "expect our great partner" to "respect the unity of the European Union."[2] This demand for a unified approach, however, was also implicitly addressed to Berlin and its China policy.

"Hardly any Need for Coordination"

However, since that quadripartite meeting in Paris, at the end of March, one gets "the impression," according to reports, that, "Germany has again unilaterally forged its own policy toward China."[3] For example, in the French capital, it has been "critically noted" that the German Chancellor apparently "hardly needs to coordinate" her approach to China's Huawei mobile communications company in setting up the 5G network in the EU. During her visit to China in September, Merkel "did not give the impression that she wanted to emphasize the EU's role," according to the sources in Paris. In fact, at the time, the chancellor had strongly promoted German economic interests.

France's Pacific Interests

Macron is trying to counter this during his current visit to China. Having significantly weaker business relations with the People's Republic of China, France is thus in a different position than Germany. Last year, Franco-Chinese trade reached nearly €71 billion, compared to nearly €200 billion in German-Chinese trade. On the other hand, France has recently pursued a rather confrontational policy towards China in the South China Sea and, supported by its military bases in its Pacific overseas territories, French warships have patrolled those waters, to demonstrate France's rejection of China's claims to individual islands or archipelagos.[4] However, in order to do business with Beijing, Macron has now agreed to visit the China International Import Expo currently taking place in Shanghai. Berlin regards this trade fair as President Xi's prestige project, therefore, in principle, boycotting it.[5]


In Shanghai, Macron is seeking to present himself not only as the president of France but also as a leading EU representative. That is why he is accompanied by the EU's current Agriculture and designated Trade Commissioner, Phil Hogan, as well as Germany's Minister of Education and Research Anja Karliczek. Top representatives of the German industry also accompanied him to the Chinese metropolis. In regards to the content, Macron is seeking to set common EU positions that Berlin will no longer be able to skirt in the future. He is, of course, also promoting positions in Germany's interests, such as an early conclusion of an investment protections agreement between the EU and China, to significantly simplify the conditions for investment in the People's Republic for EU companies.[6] The deregulation already initiated by Beijing - for example automotive and chemical companies can set up productions sites without a Chinese joint venture partner - are insufficient, according to Paris and Berlin.

Economy, Climate Protection, Technology...

Macron is obviously aiming for a consolidated EU position to assume a role between the People’s Republic of China and the United States. Aimed at the Trump administration, the French President was quoted yesterday saying. "No one can win a trade war."[7] Regarding yesterday's US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, Macron also declared that "cooperation between China and the European Union" on climate protection "is crucial."[8] He explicitly called for Chinese-EU cooperation to focus not only on the economy and climate protection, but to include state-of-the-art technologies. This is aimed at Washington's efforts to drive the Chinese Huawei Group as far as possible out of the global market and to cut China’s high-tech industry altogether off from the West. Experts speak of a "decoupling" strategy, which would ultimately enforce a technological division of the world, similar to Cold War times. ( reported.[9]) This is explicitly rejected by the German business community.[10] Macron's plea for close cooperation in the field of technology is taking this into account.

Cooperation and Confrontation

In contrast to the Trump administration's increasingly aggressive China policy, President Macron's European Affairs Advisor, Clément Beaune, announced during last week's French-German Business Forum that the EU's China policy must not only include elements of confrontation but also of cooperation, such as in the fields mentioned above. "The President's most important message on this trip will be that we need a common European approach towards China, which includes elements of confrontation but also of cooperation."[11] In principle, this not only corresponds to Germany's policy toward China. During the Cold War, West Germany had already pursued the strategy of drawing strength through cooperation to prevail in the confrontation.


Please watch our video column: War against China.


[1] See also Berlin Calls for a "One-Europe Policy".

[2] Sabine Wachs: Vierertreffen mit Seitenhieb. 26.03.2019.

[3] Hendrik Ankenbrand, Friederike Böge, Michaela Wiegel: Hand in Hand. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05.11.2019.

[4] France challenges Beijing in South China Sea. 12.06.2018. Tuan Anh Luc: Are France and the UK Here to Stay in the South China Sea? 14.09.2018.

[5] Hendrik Ankenbrand, Friederike Böge, Michaela Wiegel: Hand in Hand. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05.11.2019.

[6] Dana Heide: Macron fordert von Xi, Versprechen einer weiteren Öffnung Chinas auch einzulösen. 05.11.2019.

[7] Macron in China: "Niemand gewinnt einen Handelskrieg". 05.11.2019.

[8] Macron - nach US-Ausstieg aus Klimaabkommen ist Zusammenarbeit von China und Europa "entscheidend". 05.11.2019.

[9], [10] See also Der neue Systemkonflikt (II) and Die Entkopplung der Welt.

[11] Thomas Hanke, Donata Riedel, Dana Heide: Frankreich und Deutschland arbeiten an gemeinsamer China-Strategie. 30.10.2019.