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China, France, and the Shadow of History

Ryan Evans, the editor-in-chief of War on the Rocks, recently sat down with Justin Vaïsse, the director general of the Paris Peace Forum, to discuss French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent remarks about China. Vaïsse was with Macron on his trip to China and provided insights into the discussions the French president had with Chinese leaders. Macron’s remarks called for a more robust European policy towards China, arguing that Europe should not be too dependent on China economically and should take a stronger stance on issues such as human rights and climate change. Vaïsse notes that Macron’s message may not have been well received by the Chinese, who are used to dealing with countries on a bilateral basis rather than as a collective unit such as the European Union. However, Vaïsse argues that Macron’s message is important as it represents a shift in European thinking towards China, which previously had been focused more on trade than strategy. Vaïsse also suggests that the history between China and France has an impact on their relationship today, with France having a long record of engagement with China, including a role in the Opium Wars, which still reverberates in Chinese thinking. Overall, Vaïsse argues that the relationship between China and France, as well as China and Europe more broadly, will continue to be complex and nuanced, requiring careful navigation on both sides.

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