In China, Macron Offers a Horse, and a Vision to Counter Trump
Posted January 9, 2018 2:34 p.m. EST
BEIJING — He came bearing gifts, including a brown horse named Vesuvius plucked from the French presidential cavalry. He tried his hand at Mandarin. He journeyed to an ancient capital to pay respects to China’s first emperor.
President Emmanuel Macron of France, during a three-day visit to China this week, has worked at every turn to win over China’s leaders, hoping to reinvigorate ties between the two countries as they grapple with the strident nationalism of President Donald Trump.
Macron and President Xi Jinping, during meetings this week, articulated a vision sharply at odds with Trump’s worldview. They spoke of a need for free trade and rallied against protectionism. They embraced multilateralism and praised institutions like the United Nations.
And they emphasized the importance of working together to combat climate change, as the United States backs away from global efforts to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.
Macron, speaking briefly in Mandarin on Monday, repeated one of his favorite jabs at Trump, saying it was time to “make our planet great again.”
Xi, speaking at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Tuesday, emphasized a desire to “protect multilateralism” and called for an “open world economy” — a mantra that he has embraced repeatedly since Trump’s election despite China’s own market restrictions.
Ding Chun, the director of the Centre for European Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said a stronger alliance between France and China was natural given that the two leaders had similar views.
“Both President Xi and President Macron think differently from Trump’s ‘make America great again’ philosophy,” Ding said. “They both believe in opening up and multilateralism.”
Analysts said Macron was positioning himself as a reliable ally of China at a time when much of the West is in disarray. The U.S., under Trump, is withdrawing from the world stage, and Britain and Germany are grappling with domestic political struggles.
“Macron in a way is trying to represent the West to China,” said Jean-Philippe Béja, an emeritus senior research fellow at Sciences Po in Paris. “There’s an attempt at lifting China as a partner on the world scene.”
Still, Béja expressed concern that Macron was moving too quickly to embrace China and paying too little attention to issues like China’s efforts to build artificial islands in the South China Sea, despite objections from neighboring countries, and its human rights abuses.
“He is aware of possible dangers, but I’m not sure he’s aware of what Xi Jinping’s China is,” Béja said.
As Macron called for a “new relationship” with China, he offered praise for Xi’s signature “One Belt, One Road” initiative, a $1 trillion plan that would remake the global economic order. The plan promises to revive ancient Silk Road routes connecting China to Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe through enormous infrastructure projects.
Many Western officials have greeted the initiative with caution, worried that China is seeking to rewrite international rules to serve its political and economic interests.
But Macron seemed to welcome the program. He began his trip to China on Monday in Xian, an ancient Silk Road capital, and said France was ready to play a “leading role” in “One Belt, One Road,” according to Chinese news reports.
Still, Macron warned that the effort should not be “one-way,” Reuters reported, and he spoke of the dangers of hegemony.
Macron is seeking closer economic ties to help reduce France’s $36 billion trade deficit with China. On Tuesday, he and Xi presided over the signing of billions of dollars in trade agreements between French and Chinese companies in areas like aviation, agriculture and nuclear energy. China also agreed to lift an embargo on French beef.
Even as Macron embraces close trade ties with China, he has called for more rigorous scrutiny of Chinese investments in competitive industries in Europe.
“There is a growing wariness and caution about what kind of investments and what kind of companies China is acquiring in Europe and France,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor of politics at Hong Kong Baptist University. “The big question for France is how can we keep an edge on China.”
Macron’s decision to give Xi an 8-year-old horse named Vesuvius gained widespread attention in China. Some commenters wondered whether Macron was making an allusion to the transliteration of his name into Chinese, which forms a phrase that roughly means “horse overcomes dragon.”
French officials said the gift was a nod to Xi’s interest in the horses he saw during a visit to Paris in 2014.
Vesuvius was brought to China on a separate plane. He remained in quarantine as of Tuesday evening, Chinese officials said.