France-China Relations: Regional Connectivity and Beyond

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Chinese President Xi Jinping

by Muhammad Asif NOOR

Chinese President Xi Jinping is on a three country visit to Europe where his first stop is in France and met with French President Emmanuel Macron and held a trilateral dialogue along with the EU Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen to discuss issues of bilateral and multilateral nature. This visit holds special significance as both nations commemorate the 60th Anniversary of their diplomatic relations, marking a milestone in their shared history. This visit marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing evolution of Franco-Chinese relations poised to reshape the regional and global connectivity and landscape. Against the backdrop of geopolitical complexities, growing conflicts and wars to burgeoning economic interdependence, President Xi’s visit is a historic step towards building stronger global ties.

Rooted in centuries of historical connections, the strategic partnership between France and China has fostered collaboration across various sectors, shaping regional and global connectivity over the years.  From the establishment of diplomatic relations in the 1960s to the strategic partnership forged in 2004, the relationship between France and China has witnessed steady growth despite occasional challenges. President Macron’s proactive approach to enhancing economic and cultural ties highlights France’s recognition of China’s pivotal role in shaping global affairs. His visits to China laid the groundwork for substantive agreements in areas ranging from nuclear energy to agriculture, highlighting the depth of bilateral engagement.

One of the earliest engagements between France and China was in the field of civil nuclear energy, where France became the first Western nation to collaborate with China. This partnership laid the foundation for intergovernmental science and technology cooperation agreements, fostering innovation and knowledge exchange between the two countries. Additionally, France took the initiative to establish direct flights with China, facilitating easier travel and enhancing connectivity between the two nations.

France has also emerged as a significant destination for Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI), with an astounding 585.8 percent increase in French FDI into the Chinese mainland from January to February 2024. Chinese investment in France has also been substantial, totaling nearly $4.9 billion USD, with over 900 French companies benefiting from Chinese capital infusion. French companies are also actively participating in various construction related initiatives on Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China. BRI is a global mammoth connectivity project that is building on connecting word to transcend trade, ideas and prosperity for a shared future.

At the heart of President Xi’s visit lies a concerted effort to deepen economic ties and foster mutual understanding with Europe’s one of the largest economies. France, as a key player in the European Union, represents a crucial partner for China in advancing its interests in the region especially trade and economic partnerships. President Xi’s discussions with French counterparts are focused on enhancing trade and investment cooperation, particularly in sectors such as energy, infrastructure, and aerospace. The signing of cooperation agreements during the visit signifies a commitment to strengthening economic linkages and promoting sustainable development.

Against the backdrop of escalating tensions between the West and Russia, President Macron’s emphasis on engaging with China to prevent further divisions among global powers is a strategic imperative. This is also reflects a strong trust that France put on China to play a global role of a peacemaker in the world. As China seeks to position itself as a mediator in conflicts such as the Ukrainian crisis, tensions in Middle East, Macron’s diplomatic proposals amplifies the fact that President of France considers the importance of leveraging China’s influence to mitigate tensions and foster dialogue.

Trade relations between France and China have emerged as a cornerstone of their partnership, with both countries serving as vital export markets for each other. Despite fluctuations in trade volumes, recent data indicates a resurgence in China’s imports from France, particularly in high-value sectors such as beauty products and aerospace technology. Conversely, France continues to import various goods from China, highlighting the complementary nature of their economies. Bilateral trade volume reaching an impressive $78.9 billion in 2023. China’s imports of French goods increased with the rate of 5.5 percent year-on-year, underscoring the growing demand for French products in the Chinese market.

President Xi Jinping’s visit to France represents a significant milestone in the ongoing evolution of Sino-French relations. It also serves as a reminder for the enduring bonds between the two nations and potential for cooperation in addressing the shared challenges and opportunities. By deepening economic ties, promoting regional stability, and fostering cultural exchanges, China seeks to strengthen the strategic partnership with France. Despite the challenges and complexities inherent in bilateral relations, this important engagement reflect China’s commitment to building a more inclusive and interconnected world.  As China continues to assert its influence on the global stage, France’s engagement with China will play a crucial role in shaping the future of international relations and advancing common objectives of peace, prosperity, and sustainable development.

Author: Muhammad Asif Noor is Founder of “Friends of BRI Forum” and CEO of “Diplomatic Insight Group”.

This article reflects the author’s own opinions and not necessarily the views of Global Connectivities.