Europe must resist pressure to become ‘America’s followers,’ says Macron
BY JAMIL ANDERLINI AND CLEA CAULCUTT
09 April 2023
ABOARD COTAM UNITÉ (FRANCE’S AIR FORCE ONE) — Europe must reduce its dependency on the United States and avoid getting dragged into a confrontation between China and the U.S. over Taiwan, French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview on his plane back from a three-day state visit to China.
Speaking with POLITICO and two French journalists after spending around six hours with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his trip, Macron emphasized his pet theory of “strategic autonomy” for Europe, presumably led by France, to become a “third superpower.”
He said “the great risk” Europe faces is that it “gets caught up in crises that are not ours, which prevents it from building its strategic autonomy,” while flying from Beijing to Guangzhou, in southern China, aboard COTAM Unité, France’s Air Force One.
Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party have enthusiastically endorsed Macron’s concept of strategic autonomy and Chinese officials constantly refer to it in their dealings with European countries. Party leaders and theorists in Beijing are convinced the West is in decline and China is on the ascendant and that weakening the transatlantic relationship will help accelerate this trend.
“The paradox would be that, overcome with panic, we believe we are just America’s followers,” Macron said in the interview. “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 U.S. agenda and a Chinese overreaction,” he said.
Just hours after his flight left Guangzhou headed back to Paris, China launched large military exercises around the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which China claims as its territory but the U.S. has promised to arm and defend.
Those exercises were a response to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen’s 10-day diplomatic tour of Central American countries that included a meeting with Republican U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy while she transited in California. People familiar with Macron’s thinking said he was happy Beijing had at least waited until he was out of Chinese airspace before launching the simulated “Taiwan encirclement” exercise.
Beijing has repeatedly threatened to invade in recent years and has a policy of isolating the democratic island by forcing other countries to recognize it as part of “one China.”
Macron and Xi discussed Taiwan “intensely,” according to French officials accompanying the president, who appears to have taken a more conciliatory approach than the U.S. or even the European Union.
“Stability in the Taiwan Strait is of paramount importance,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who accompanied Macron for part of his visit, said she told Xi during their meeting in Beijing last Thursday. “The threat [of] the use of force to change the status quo is unacceptable.”
Xi responded by saying anyone who thought they could influence Beijing on Taiwan was deluded.
Macron appears to agree with that assessment.