Macron sparks outrage, infuriates China hawks over Taiwan comments
London: French President Emmanuel Macron has sparked outrage after saying Europe should reduce its dependency on the United States and avoid getting involved in any conflict between Washington and Beijing over Taiwan.
Macron made the comments in an interview with Politico on-board COTAM Unité, France’s Air Force One, while travelling home to Paris after a three-day state visit to Beijing where he struck a range of business deals for French companies.
On the visit, Macron was given a lavish reception by President Xi Jinping, who is intent on fracturing the trans-Atlantic alliance.
Macron’s interview was conducted before China’s military conducted three days of drills around Taiwan simulating precision strikes, in retaliation for Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to the United States.
On the third and final scheduled day of operations, China carried out aerial and naval blockade drills around Taiwan, while a US Navy destroyer passed through waters claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea.
Xi wants to reunify democratic Taiwan with the mainland and has threatened to use military force to achieve his goal.
In a disclaimer, Politico said some of the French leader’s comments were redacted by his office under an agreement struck to obtain the interview. In them, Macron spoke “even more frankly” on his views about Taiwan, Politico said.
Macron said he wanted Europe to adopt “strategic autonomy” from the United States, a concept which is backed by Beijing.
He warned against Europe becoming “America’s followers”.
“If the tensions between the two superpowers heat up … we won’t have the time nor the resources to finance our strategic autonomy and we will become vassals,” Macron told the travelling journalists.
“The paradox would be that, overcome with panic, we believe we are just America’s followers.
“The question Europeans need to answer … is it in our interest to accelerate [a crisis] on Taiwan? No. The worse thing would be to think that we Europeans must become followers on this topic and take our cue from the US agenda and a Chinese overreaction.
“Europeans cannot resolve the crisis in Ukraine; how can we credibly say on Taiwan, ‘Watch out, if you do something wrong we will be there’? If you really want to increase tensions that’s the way to do it,” he said.
France has long held out an ambivalence for US power and influence over Europe. France, for example, forced the withdrawal of NATO headquarters from Paris in 1967 over fears of US political sway over the continent. Macron has also supported the creation of a European army that could function in place of NATO.
Politico said that Macron conducted the interview in the stateroom of his A330 aircraft wearing a hoodie with the words “French Tech” written across the front.
A short time later, he released on his social media channels a video of his visit to China that showed him being swarmed by Chinese citizens who would have been carefully selected by the CCP.
That carefully engineered interaction is in stark contrast to scenes at home following weeks of strikes and fires in Paris, following major protests over his plan to raise the pension age.
Macron’s comments on Taiwan are more conciliatory to Beijing than those made by EU Commission boss Ursula von der Leyen, who has taken a tougher stance on China, and whom Macron invited to accompany him on parts of his visit to Beijing.
The trio held a meeting in which Xi gave talking points on all topics except for two. He went off script when Ukraine and Taiwan were raised, according to a source in the room.
After the meeting, von der Leyen told reporters that security in the Taiwan Strait was of “paramount importance” and that the threat of force to change the status quo was “unacceptable”.
Macron’s comments sparked widespread dismay and anger across Europe and in the United States, where Republican senator Marco Rubio urged European countries to clarify “pretty quickly” if Macron spoke for Europe or France alone.
“We need to ask Europe does he speak for them, because we’re pretty heavily involved in Ukraine right now, we’re spending a lot of our taxpayer money on a European war,” he said in a video statement.
“And I’ve supported that because I think that’s in the national interest to the United States to be allies to our allies.
“But if our allies’ position, if in fact Macron speaks for all of Europe, and their position now is they’re not going to pick sides between the US and China over Taiwan, maybe we shouldn’t be picking sides either?
“Maybe we should say we’re going to be focusing on Taiwan and the threats that China poses and you guys handle Ukraine on your own?”
German foreign policy scholar and China-watcher Ulrich Speck said Macron’s comments vindicated Australia’s decision to tear up its contract for French-made submarines in favour of the AUKUS pact.
Malcolm Davis from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute described Macron’s comments as “ill-conceived at best, and poorly timed” given the situation in Ukraine, and the need for Europe and the US to work together to support Kyiv.
“He’s dramatically weakened trans-Atlantic unity in the face of a determined challenge from Moscow and Beijing, by promoting his concept strategic autonomy for Europe (with France leading of course – I wonder what the Germans must think?) and in doing so weakened NATO.”
Davis said Macron has “given Xi Jinping and the CCP a huge boost to their perception that western liberal democracies are weak and divided. This has occurred in a period of intensifying competition between autocracies and liberal democracies over which form of governance – authoritarianism vs democracy – will ultimately become dominant in the 21st century.”
Bruno Tertrais, deputy director at France’s leading defence think tank Foundation for Strategic Research, said Macron was wrong on Taiwan.
“The best way to avoid a war over Taiwan is deterrence,” he said.