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Good Sino-French past offers great future

By Christine Bierre | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-30 08:32
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French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meet in Paris, France, on Feb 20, 2024. [Photo/Xinhua]

Over the years, France-China relations have been steadily improving. The announcement that the Chinese leader will pay a state visit to France in early May amid one of the worst strategic crises since the end of World War II is a sign of trust that France and China can, as in other crises in the past, work together to promote global peace.

Despite the United States' hostility toward China in recent years, France has upheld its freedom to cooperate with China and called for "European strategic autonomy", which would allow the European Union to avoid being drawn into a US war over the Taiwan question.

Negotiations to end the Russia-Ukraine conflict will be high on the agenda of the French and Chinese leaders following the talks held by Li Hui, China's special envoy on Eurasian affairs. No doubt, following German Chancellor Olaf Scholz' successful visit to China, Beijing will try to boost ties with those EU countries that want to boost trade with China.

The France-China relationship goes back centuries, especially the scientific and cultural collaboration between Louis XIV of France and Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in the 17th century, via Jean-Baptiste Colbert, controller-general of finances during Louis XIV's reign, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, German polymath and logician, and has steadily grown since.

What reinforced that cooperation is the consensus between former French prime minister Pierre Mendes France and former Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in 1954 to bring the "Indochina war" to an end.

However, it was former French leader Charles De Gaulle's decision in 1964 to establish diplomatic relations with China that opened the way to high-level collaboration between both countries. De Gaulle justified his decision, by saying: "China is gigantic … To live as if it didn't exist, would be to be blind, especially since it exists more and more."

Moreover, De Gaulle, made this decision knowing full well where it could lead: "It is not excluded, that China could become during the next century, what it was throughout past centuries, the greatest power of the universe."

What a difference from the Joe Bidens and the Antony Blinkens of today! And how right De Gaulle was!

In the 60 years since then, China has become a great power, and the largest economy in the world, if GDP is calculated in terms of purchasing power parity.

As for the changes that have occurred in the past 60 years, bilateral trade increased from $100 million in 1964 to $78.9 billion in 2023, France has become the third-largest trade partner of China in the EU, and China the largest trade partner of France in Asia. And while cooperation has been fruitful in the nuclear field, China has developed its own reactor, Hualong, advanced research into the main types of 4th generation nuclear reactors and promoted cooperation with France on fusion.

Sino-French cooperation in aerospace has also been fruitful — Airbus now accounts for 54 percent of the market in China and has established an assembly line in Tianjin to manufacture aircraft for Chinese airlines.

French-Chinese collaboration in space, too, has been mutually beneficial, with a French-Chinese satellite being assembled in Shanghai which will enable us to study gamma-ray bursts, the most powerful explosions of stars in our universe.

The fact that 7,000 French companies are operating in China shows that Sino-French trade and economic ties have not been affected by external factors. Besides, cooperation between the two sides on the ecology and digital technology is deepening.
Cultural centers have started a high-level of people-to-people dialogue through local institutions on education and tourism, promoting the enrichment of both civilizations. For example, France and China have 111 pairs of sister cities and provinces, and there are 14 Alliances Française centers in China and 18 Confucius Institutes in France.

To mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-French diplomatic relations, China and France will offer to their respective nationals the chance to discover the great works of French and Chinese artists, architects, theater personalities, dancers, musicians and filmmakers. Large festivities are also being organized by French-Chinese associations in cities such as Aubervilliers, where several hundred people participated in the events, or in Coutances in Normandy, where about 2,000 people watched the show.

Given the Sino-French history of independence, we can only hope the meeting between the two countries' leaders contributes to world peace. Therefore, this is the right time for other countries to join China in calling for regional and global peace.

The author is editor-in-chief of Nouvelle Solidarité, the organ of the Solidarity and Progress Party.The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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