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A New Impetus for Europe’s Quest for Strategic Autonomy: Macron’s Visit to China

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French President Emmanuel Macron visited China between 5-7 April 2023. Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, accompanied Macron. During the visit, China-European Union (EU) relations and the search for a solution to the Russia-Ukraine War were discussed. In addition, it was decided to develop political, economic, cultural, and security-based cooperation in the relations on the Paris-Beijing line.

Macron’s visit to China and the interview he gave after the visit brought up the issue of ensuring Europe’s strategic autonomy. As it is known, with the Second World War, European countries were included in the Atlantic Alliance. During the Cold War, this bond was riveted. With the end of the Cold War, there have been regional and global developments that have increased doubts about the credibility of the United States.

Moreover, a group of European countries led by France have developed a strategic autonomy approach that aims to develop an independent understanding of politics with third countries in economic, diplomacy, intelligence, conflict management, security and foreign policy decisions of Europe and to reduce its dependence on the USA. In this way, it is thought that the EU can be positioned as a power center in the international arena.

Undoubtedly, gaining strategic autonomy for the 27-member EU, especially in security and defense issues, is not an easy matter to overcome. Because, despite the use of the phrase “The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been brain dead”, with the Russia-Ukraine War that started on February 24, 2022, the view of European countries towards the USA and NATO has softened and NATO has become functional again by expanding its borders. In other words, while the Russian threat strengthens the Euro-US bond; on the other hand, it has caused the voices about the strategic autonomy of Europe to weaken. However, the prolongation of the war, the energy, economic and migration crisis in the European continent caused an increase in social reactions.

While it is seen that the war, which has a global dimension, is reflected in Europe as a crisis; The USA, which is effective in the course of the war, keeps the EU on its side and limits Russia, so it can focus more on the fight against its global rival, China. On the one hand, while the problems increase; the credibility of the USA has started to be questioned again by some European countries, especially France, since the other side has made moves towards its goals. As a matter of fact, in the interview he gave on his return from his visit to China, Macron used the following statements:[1]

“The great risk” Europe faces is that it “gets caught up in crises that are not ours, which prevents it from building its strategic autonomy… The paradox would be that, overcome with panic, we believe we are just America’s followers. The question Europeans need to answer … is it in our interest to accelerate [a crisis] on Taiwan? No.”

At the same time, Macron reminded the importance of strategic autonomy that will allow Europe to act in its direction, expressing that Europe’s dependence on the USA for weapons and energy has increased, the dependence on the dollar should be reduced and Europe should focus on developing its defense industries.

In the shadow of the Russia-Ukraine War, the positive effect of the Macron-Shi meeting has had an impact on these statements aimed at reducing Europe’s dependence on the US and ensuring its strategic autonomy. The two leaders signed a declaration that they think will add a new dimension to the Franco-Chinese relations. In the statement, it was stated that there was an agreement on issues such as strengthening political dialogue, promoting mutual trust, and acting together in ensuring world security and stability and in global challenges.[2]

It is understood that the agreement is shaped by the importance of political dialogue and strengthening mutual trust. Ensuring mutual political trust also facilitates the development of commercial and economic relations.

Given the World Bank’s warning that if policymakers do not take the initiative, global economic growth will drop to a three-year low of 2.2% per year by 2030, which will start a lost decade for the world economy[3], and given the current global economic crisis France wants to develop economic relations with China, the most important trade partner of the EU.

In fact, Macron participated in his visit to China with a large business delegation and signed numerous economic agreements involving large companies in sectors such as transportation, energy, agriculture, culture, and science. For example, EDF a French state corporation, and a Chinese corporation CGN, renewed their ongoing partnerships in nuclear power production; EDF and China Energy Investment Corporation signed agreements in the field of offshore wind energy. French aircraft manufacturer Airbus has announced that it will double the production capacity of the company’s A320 models by building a new assembly line at its factory in Tianjin, China.[4]

While the aforementioned situation weakens the power of the US in the trade war launched against China; it can be considered as a contribution to the strategic autonomy of Europe. Another issue that should be mentioned at this point is Macron’s emphasis on the need to reduce the dependence on the dollar. Because Macron also has some initiatives in this direction. Shortly before Macron visited China, French Total Energy agreed to purchase LNG with the Chinese state-owned company CNOOC. It was decided to use the yuan, the national currency of China, as a payment method in this transaction.[5] France’s agreement to pay through the yuan can be interpreted as a step towards reducing the use of the dollar in Europe. On the other hand, the agreement in question is an important development in terms of the recognition of the yuan in international trade and undermining the dominance of the dollar, which has long dominated the energy market.

An important issue in Macron’s visit to China was the development of military cooperation. China and France agreed to deepen the dialogue between the Southern Front of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Asia-Pacific Command of the French Army and to exchange views on international and regional security issues.

As can be seen, shortly after the announcement of the implementation phase of the AUKUS partnership aimed at limiting China in the Indo-Pacific by the USA, Australia, and Britain, the development of military cooperation between China and France came to the fore. This can be read as Paris’ effort to maintain its influence in the Asia-Pacific. As it is known, Australia terminated the submarine agreement between France and Australia because of AUKUS. If this agreement had not been terminated, France, one of the leading actors of Europe, would have increased its power in the region and had the opportunity to lead Europe’s Asia-Pacific strategy. Contrary to this scenario, the UK is increasing its influence in the region by acting together with the USA among European countries.

In summary, Macron’s visit to China has rekindled the independent European discussions. Supporting policies that prioritize the interests of the USA in regional and global developments limits the EU and European countries to act in accordance with their national interests; in Macron’s words, it makes Europe a slave to the USA. In order to achieve strategic autonomy, it is desired to act in accordance with realpolitik, independent of the influence of the USA in relations with third countries, including France-China and EU-China relations. Rather than the break with the agreements and commitments made during Macron’s visit to China, the US expects in relations with China; this is also evident from the effort to develop a mutual win-win relationship.

As a result, the convergence on the Paris-Beijing line may provide an advantage to Europe in its strategic autonomy journey; but not enough for success. Because ensuring the strategic autonomy of Europe requires the EU to be more integrated in the field of defense. Although there are searches in this direction, some member states are reluctant to deepen integration. Moreover, as seen in the example of the Russia-Ukraine War, the USA is an indispensable actor for most states in ensuring European security. Therefore, there are still serious obstacles in front of Europe to reach its strategic autonomy goal in today’s world where global problems are increasing and geopolitical transformations are experienced.


[1] “Europe Must Resist Pressure to Become ‘America’s Followers,’ Says Macron”, Politico, https://www.politico.eu/article/emmanuel-macron-china-america-pressure-interview/, (Date of Accession:10.04.2022).

[2] Liu Lirong, “Sino-French Joint Statement: Candid Dialogue and Pragmatic Cooperation”, CGTN, https://news.cgtn.com/news/2023-04-09/Sino-French-joint-statement-Candid-dialogue-and-pragmatic-cooperation-1iRp3vEvSpO/index.html, (Date of Accession:10.04.2022).

[3] “World Bank Warns of ‘Lost Decade’ İn Global Growth Without Bold Policy Shifts”, World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2023/04/world-bank-warns-of-lost-decade-in-global-growth-without-bold-policy-shifts/#:~:text=Average%20potential%20global%20economic%20growth,investment%2C%20the%20World%20Bank%20warned, (Date of Accession:10.04.2022).

[4] “France-China Relations: Trade, Investment, and Recent Developments”, China Briefing, https://www.china-briefing.com/news/france-china-relations-trade-investment-and-recent-developments/, (Date of Accession:13.10.2022).

[5] “China Completes First LNG Cross-Border Yuan Settlement Transaction”, Global Times, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202303/1288160.shtml, (Date of Accession:10.04.2022).

Gamze BAL
Gamze BAL
Gamze BAL has completed her undergraduated education at Sakarya University, Department of International Relations. Afterward, she has completed his master in Sakarya University with a dissertation titled “The European Union’s Policy on Palestine-Israel Issue in Post 1992”. Between 2021 and 2022, she studied doctoral program in European Union at Institute of Social Sciences, Istanbul University. At the present time, Bal pursuing a PhD in international relations at Instıtute of Graduate Program, Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli University. Having advenced level in English, her main research areas are European Union, security, ethnic conflicts, means of conflict resolution.