Mutual trust, curiosity and admiration for cultures constant factors in China-France relations

The Seine in Paris. Photo: VCG

The Seine in Paris. Photo: VCG

Editor’s Note:

Chinese President Xi Jinping is paying state visits to France, Serbia and Hungary from May 5 to 10 at the invitation of President Emmanuel Macron of the Republic of France, President Aleksandar Vucic of the Republic of Serbia and President Tamas Sulyok and Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary. Ahead of the Chinese leader’s visit to France, Global Times reporter
(GT) Chen Qingqing interviewed Eric Alauzet
(Alauzet), president of the France-China Friendship Group in the French National Assembly, to talk about the implications of the visit for China-France relations, review the development of bilateral relations and discuss the role of China-France relations in China-EU relations. 

GT: What are your expectations for President Xi’s visit to Europe?

Alauzet: I wouldn’t say that exchanges are resuming because they have already resumed. During the COVID pandemic, exchanges were a bit more strained. Exchanges have resumed since President Macron visited China last April. Now President Xi is coming to France for the 60th anniversary [of the establishment of China-France diplomatic relations], so it’s an opportunity to deepen relations and continue the dialogue as openly as we have been doing for a long time, at all levels, from presidents and ministers to parliamentarians in the friendship group. Despite the difficulties or differences in views between [our two] countries, continuing to speak openly is key. 

GT: This year marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and France. Could you share some important historical moments and achievements from these 60 years of China-France relations?

Alauzet: As we know, but perhaps less known to the French, the number 60 holds significant importance in Chinese culture. Personally, I have a deep understanding of this significance, as it marks the completion of a cycle, and thus it’s a moment to take an assessment of what has happened during these 60 years. Overall, the assessment is very positive, and it’s an opportunity, especially with the 60th anniversary and the China-France Year of Culture and Tourism, to revitalize and give impetus to the new cycle that is beginning, in terms of the coming 60 years. So, it’s an important opportunity to reinvigorate and deepen our relations.

GT: Over the past 60 years, what have been the changes and constants in China-France relations?

Alauzet: The changes are undoubtedly linked to the deepening of relations between our two countries, a mutual understanding that continues to deepen, a better understanding, and thus the development of cultural and economic relations. But we must consider the general context; the changes are also related to the overall context, particularly in the economic field. 

There have been industrial revolutions in China and technological revolutions worldwide with artificial intelligence. So, all these developments have contributed to the change and deepening of our relations, as well as changes in geopolitical dynamics.

The constant factors are the mutual trust between our countries and the curiosity and mutual admiration for our cultures. Both cultures, each with several millennia of history, are so different, and therefore so attractive because of their differences. This has remained the same, while the changes, I would say, are mainly linked to the world situation.

GT: How do you assess the current relations between China and France? In the face of the challenges of globalization and changes in the international political and economic situation, in what areas can China and France strengthen their cooperation?

Alauzet: I would say that the state of relations has been somewhat complicated over the past decade, and it has been somewhat strained over the past three to four years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

China is evolving like all countries, with the ambition to be more autonomous. It is not only the world’s industrial factory, but it also aims to integrate the entire value chain into its economy. China has become much more powerful, and as economic relations are partly based on competition, it naturally alters the balance. In a period where Europe may be experiencing some difficulties with relatively low growth, these changes and challenges from China’s impact on the West have made things a bit more complicated over the past decade. With extremely unfavorable external trade for Europe and France, it has naturally affected economic discussions.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has made things even more complicated, resulting in a decrease in the French community in China. This contributes to the difficulties. Furthermore, there are economic tensions that exacerbate market imbalances, leading to mistrust or suspicions.

Another factor complicating relations is the tendency to form blocs – two blocs, whether ideological or social, between what has long been referred to as the West, which has dominated the world for a long time, and what is now commonly known as the Global South. Through regional conflicts like the war between Russia and Ukraine, these two blocs could unfortunately strengthen each other and find themselves more in a confrontation.

That’s why it’s so important to renew and deepen relations and eliminate misunderstandings, because sometimes problems are caused by misunderstandings. And when there are real disagreements, we will try to overcome them and improve things.

GT: In your opinion, what role do China-France relations play in the context of China-EU relations? How will Europe’s position in Chinese foreign policy evolve?

Alauzet: I believe both China and France – and also Europe – advocate for multilateralism. 

What we are seeing today is the end of unilateralism. But multilateralism has not yet been fully embraced. The deadlock I mentioned earlier could lead us back to something resembling the Cold War between the US and the USSR, but this time between the US and China. We can see the tensions between China and the US. Europe advocates for multilateralism rather than falling back into a bilateral confrontation between China and the US. 

Objectively speaking, France and Europe are close to the US in many respects. However, Europe, particularly France, has its own interests and is not always aligned with the US. Even the Europeans and the French sometimes have tensions with the US, economically and diplomatically, as well as regarding international regulations. Europe has its own destiny in its pursuit of multilateralism, in which France plays a special role.

France and China share the responsibility of being countries that avoid extremes and maintain balance, thus avoiding both unilateralism and a bloc-to-bloc approach, which would be equally detrimental. China places great importance on France, knowing that France has a measured position in its alignment with the US, contributing to Europe finding its path and promoting multilateralism.

GT: 2024 is the Year of Culture and Tourism between China and France, as well as the Olympic year for France. Could you please share the plans for cultural cooperation and exchanges between the two countries for this special year? And what role do cultural and human exchanges play in enhancing bilateral relations?

Alauzet: The primary and essential role of cultural relations is that there is never any disagreement. In cultural relations, there are enormous differences, but they assist our curiosity and interest more than they provoke any potential disapproval. So, cultural relations are always beneficial; they enrich us through our differences.

Personally, due to my professional evolution as a doctor interested in acupuncture, I have become passionate about Taoism. Taoism has not only inspired my professional life as an acupuncturist but has also influenced my personal life. I maintain my Western values, but I am deeply influenced by Taoism. Culture is the foundation; it is about emotion, sensitivity and bringing people closer.

With the 60th-anniversary celebration and this cultural year, there are numerous events happening in both China and France. I had the opportunity to attend a concert launched in the presence of the Minister of Culture at Versailles, at the Royal Opera House. It was a collaboration between our two orchestras, the Royal Opera House of Versailles and the Chinese orchestra, and it was fabulous. They performed French and Chinese works together, creating extraordinary moments.

I also supported a cultural cooperation project organized by two regions, involving the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, as I am based in Besançon, and the city of Hefei in Anhui Province. Recently, there was an inauguration where more than 10 artists from France exhibited their works in Hefei. In the coming autumn, 10 Chinese artists will exhibit their works in France. The program is very rich and it is quite exceptional.

GT: In the fields of emerging technologies, sustainable development and green energy, how can China and France seek new opportunities for cooperation?

Alauzet: I am very happy to see China engaged in issues of biodiversity and climate. I am very happy to see the rapid progress the Chinese are making in new technologies such as solar, photovoltaic, wind, as well as many others. I am delighted that China has joined the Paris Agreement to contribute, with its own history and deadlines to carbon neutrality.

France and Europe are also looking for ways to catch up with gigafactories for batteries, which does not prevent Chinese companies from developing collaborations in France and Europe for renewable energy production using solar, wind and other sources. When technologies are implemented in France, it should be done in partnership with French private or public companies, a bit like a gateway, and we should also take advantage of it to boost technology in France and Europe.