Robert Harneis – TDO-( FRANCE) President Emmanuel Macron who is on a high profile three-day visit to China Accompanied by 50 top businessmen moved from the public relations aspect of his visit to the nitty gritty.
He started out sightseeing and giving his host President Xi one of the magnificent horses from élite Republican Guard. France and China signed deals in the nuclear, aviation and other key sectors on the second day of Macron's first state visit to China. After this ritual usual on this sort of trip he got down to the real purpose of the trip. He told French and Chinese business leaders at a start-up incubator in Beijing: ‘We have an access to markets which is unbalanced, unsatisfying. ‘
French exports to China are 16 billion euros but the imports are 46 billion. No good. Apart from Germany this is France’s worst trade deficit. He proposed opening up the French economy to Chinese investment but in exchange asked for better access for French business in China. Macron said ‘the Silk road cannot only go one way and pointed out that historically it was never just Chinese.
The question of an equitable balance of trade was the subject of an initiative of the French, German and Italian governments last summer.
He left it to his Finance, Minister Bruno Le Maire, who is with him on the trip, to hammer home the point. Talking about ‘trade pillaging’ and sounding like a well-bred version of Donald Trump he echoed the remarks of his President saying that Chinese investments were welcome but on ‘certain conditions’.
He also announced his intention to reinforce the Montebourg Decree, the protectionist legislation that provides that any foreign group that wishes to take over any French business in the energy, transport, telecommunications, water or health must first obtain the permission of the French government.
Answering journalists questions he said that all Chinese investments in France were examined by the Minister of the Economy. ‘I refuse a lot of them’ he said. ‘We accept long term investments and not pillage investments.’
There is a certain irony in Macron, who poured scorn on Marine Le Pen’s demands for protectionist legislation during the presidential election campaign, now stealing her political clothes.
The Chinese have no excuse for not getting the message as Le Maire was in China as recently as the beginning of December putting across exactly the same message when he called for ‘reciprocity’. Officials from the Finance Ministry said reciprocity assumed an equal treatment in China for French companies as enjoyed by the big Asian groups in Europe.
Chinese premier Li Keqiang, for his part, said that China ‘welcomed’ French investment. Keqiang told Macron, according to a Chinese government statement: ‘We welcome France to expand investment in China and exports of high-grade French products, and we hope the French side will also further loosen exports of high-tech products to China.’
President Macron took advantage of the absence of Germany from the world stage, because of the political stalemate in Berlin, to appear to represent Europe as well as France.
On the subject of human rights, the French visitors trod more carefully. Macron said that he and President Xi had discussed the need to protect fundamental human rights. Cryptically he told journalists ‘If we don’t deal with this responsibly, the first, natural, reaction will be to close up on both sides.’ As often with President Macron nobody quite understood what he meant but it sounded right.