BRUSSELS — More people are mad at French President Emmanuel Macron.
After weeks of protests over an unpopular pension overhaul plan at home, the French president now faces outrage from allies abroad over his chummy trip to China and remarks on the need for Europe to stand apart from the United States on Taiwan and other issues.
The visit and its aftermath have angered politicians and analysts on both sides of the Atlantic, highlighting gaps between the U.S. and French approaches to China, showcasing division within the European Union — and probably delighting Beijing.
The interview in question took place during a three-day visit to China that raised eyebrows for its surprisingly upbeat tone, considering that Beijing has yet to condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine.
As his presidential plane traveled from Beijing to the southern city of Guangzhou, where he was booked for tea with President Xi Jinping, Macron took questions from Politico and French daily Les Echos, including a question about Europe’s position on Taiwan.
“The question we Europeans are asking ourselves is the following: Is it in our interest to accelerate when it comes to Taiwan? No,” he said in the interview. “The worst thing would be to think that we Europeans must become followers on this topic and take our cue from the U.S. rhythm and a Chinese overreaction.”
Europe, Macron said, risks getting “caught up in crises that are not ours, which prevents it from building strategic autonomy.” He also said that Europe was at risk of becoming a “vassal” and that the continent should reduce its dependence on the “extraterritoriality of the U.S. dollar” — all Beijing talking points.
China has endorsed Macron’s vision for “strategic autonomy,” seeing the concept as a cudgel that can be wielded to divide Europe and the United States.
The fact that Macron’s remarks jibe closely with Beijing’s line would have raised eyebrows among allies under any circumstances, but the timing was particularly sensitive.
Not long after Macron left Guangzhou, China launched three days of combat-readiness drills “encircling” Taiwan.
The Politico interview was published the next day, featuring an unusual editorial note disclosing the fact that French officials had granted the interview on the condition that they could “proofread” the quotes and had cut material where the French president “spoke even more frankly about Taiwan and Europe’s strategic autonomy.”
The interview very quickly blew up as analysts parsed Macron’s words and speculated about what did not make it into the final text.
In the United States, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, posted a video asking whether Macron indeed speaks for Europe.
The United States, he said, “is spending a lot of taxpayer money on a European war.”
“If Macron speaks for all of Europe, and their position now is they’re not going to pick sides between the U.S. and China over Taiwan, maybe then we should not be taking sides either,” he added.
“Does Macron really believe it is none of Europe’s business when China attempts to shape a world order solely based on Chinese interests and power?” asked Norbert Röttgen, a member of the German parliament, on Twitter.
“Macron,” Röttgen said, “has managed to turn his China trip into a PR coup for Xi and a foreign policy disaster for Europe.”
Even if Europe is less committed to Taiwan than the United States, it was ill-advised for Macron to say so, particularly after a spot of tea with Xi, analysts said.
Joseph de Weck, author of a German-language book on Macron, said that some European countries share Macron’s belief that Taiwan, unlike Ukraine, is a distant problem — but generally avoid saying so publicly.
“How smart is it to say this openly?” he asked. “In saying that, you allow Xi to factor in that Europe won’t react too harshly. You lower the deterrence.”
“And why say it now?” he continued. “At the current moment, the priority for every European politician should be to keep the U.S. engaged in Ukraine and have as strong as possible an alliance on Ukraine.
“By doing this, he obviously weakens the alliance just as some in the U.S. are starting to doubt engagement on Ukraine.”
Although Macron has not walked back his remarks, French officials and diplomats have responded by defending his visit and stressing that France’s position on Taiwan has not changed.
“France and Europe will always be the USA’s close allies and partners. The transatlantic relationship is crucial and the backbone of the world international order. The concept of European strategic autonomy is part of it,” tweeted Aurélie Bonal, France’s deputy ambassador to the United States.
The “many hours” that Macron spent with Xi “allowed him to talk about Taiwan, but also the Russian aggression against Ukraine, and other crucial global challenges,” she wrote.
Asked about Macron’s comments Monday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the United States and France have “terrific bilateral cooperation.”
For China, which has been concerned by Europe’s toughening position toward the country, Macron’s visit was a good-news story, and his remarks on Taiwan were on message.
The English-language edition of the Global Times, a Communist Party-controlled news outlet known for its strident nationalism, said Macron’s comments on not becoming “vassals” showed “long-term observation and reflection.”
“This is a view,” the editorial said, “representative of Europe’s insightful people.”
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