HomeFinanceChina seizes on French President Macron’s purported put-downs of U.S. and Taiwan

China seizes on French President Macron’s purported put-downs of U.S. and Taiwan

As the fallout continues from French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to China in which he made comments seen by some as snubbing the U.S., reactions in Beijing and Taipei show just how tense the situation remains across the Taiwan Strait.

The French leader last week finished a three-day visit to Beijing on what Paris had billed as a trip to urge Chinese leader Xi Jinping to help bring Russia to the negotiating table in its 14-month-old war against Ukraine. Macron was fêted with a military parade, a state dinner and generous one-on-one time with Xi.

But remarks Macron made throughout the visit sparked a global controversy that remains at fever pitch several days afterward.

Among the most surprising were statements that Europe put itself in peril by acting as “America’s follower” and that, in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, it would be “a trap for Europe” to get “entangled in crises that are not ours.” French news outlet Les Echos quoted Macron as saying: “Do we Europeans have an interest in speeding up on the subject of Taiwan? No.”

The Macron remarks during his China visit ‘signal a dead end for the U.S. strategy of luring Europe to contain China.’

— Global Times, a state-run nationalist tabloid

These and other comments sparked rebuke — from Washington, from Berlin and from Taipei.

The Republican chair of the U.S. House Select Committee on China, Mike Gallagher, was one of numerous American politicians calling out Macron’s comments. “They were embarrassing, they were disgraceful … and very geopolitically naïve,” the Wisconsin lawmaker told Fox News on Monday.

Politicians across Europe were equally castigating. A set of French lawmakers even announced an upcoming, “follow-up” trip to Taiwan.

But in China, the tightly controlled media leapt on Macron’s remarks to lash out at U.S. policies toward Taiwan, Ukraine and even Europe.

For state-run Global Times, an influential nationalist tabloid, Macron’s statements are “jamming the brakes on Europe that is being coerced into becoming deeply involved in the Taiwan question, and signal a dead end for the U.S. strategy of luring Europe to contain China.”

From the archives (February 2023): NATO chief appeals for more ‘friends’ and closer ties in Indo-Pacific region as bulwark against China and Russia

Also (February 2023): Biden administration plans to quadruple U.S. troop presence in Taiwan against rising China threat

The chorus of criticism from American politicians was proof of this, the front-page story said. “This discomfort mirrors Washington’s declining ability to rein in its allies and growing anxiety in maintaining hegemony.”

According to Xinhua, the official publication of the Chinese government, “Macron has a deeper understanding of the ‘American trap’ after visiting China.”

Other Chinese commenters connected the remarks with what broader purported failings in U.S. foreign policy. “In order to maintain its hegemony, the U.S. has not only tried to use its European allies to deal with Russia on the Ukraine issue, but also tried to use them to contain China regarding Taiwan,” wrote the popular WeChat account Wu Zhiguan.

While Taiwan is self-ruled and democratic, Beijing regards it as a runaway province and has promised to use force if the island’s leaders attempt to formalize independence.

And (February 2023): Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin in Philippines to discuss bigger U.S. military presence

Alan Ma, a graduate student at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, told MarketWatch the Chinese would never shift on the Taiwan issue. “I can think of few things more politically important [than Taiwan],” he said in a phone interview.

Macron’s visit came at an unnerving time for China-Taiwan relations. As the French president was arriving in Beijing, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was making a stopover in California after a diplomatic tour of Central America. At the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Tsai met with Kevin McCarthy, a House Republican from south-central California whose position as House speaker places him behind only the vice president in the presidential line of succession.

See: China sanctions Reagan library, others in retaliation for McCarthy meeting with Taiwan’s leader

Tsai’s brief speech to the press and other members of Congress expressed gratitude for “unwavering” American support for the democratic island, alongside warnings of gathering clouds. “We once again find ourselves in a world where democracy is under threat, and the urgency of keeping the beacon of freedom shining cannot be [overstated],” she said.

Beijing had warned that if Tsai’s U.S. visit took place, there would be repercussions, as there were in August when then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, became the highest-ranking elected American official to visit Taiwan since 1997, and Beijing launched destroyer ships and fighter patrols around the island.

From the archives (February 2023): ‘The PLA is not answering that call’: Pentagon’s special crisis communications line to Beijing goes unanswered

Indeed, just as Macron boarded France’s presidential aircraft to depart China, a full-scale simulation of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan kicked off, with dozens of fighter jets and destroyer ships using live ammunition in drills around the island.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the measures provocative and said they undermined peace and stability in the region.

Also: Taiwan’s president condemns China’s military drills in Taiwan Strait

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, on Sunday said the Chinese military maneuvers were “setting conditions to blockade Taiwan in the coming months or weeks.”

“We need to respond forcefully,” he told Fox News. “I believe in a ‘One China’ policy, but I would be willing to fight for Taiwan,” he said.

Tanner Brown covers China for MarketWatch and Barron’s.

More from Tanner Brown:

China is not only asserting itself geopolitically but openly questioning the U.S.’s central role on the world stage

China’s Xi is tightening his grip on power. He’s also centralizing economic and technology oversight.

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