Strategic significance of China-France relations is becoming increasingly prominent: Global Times editorial

60 years of friendship.Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived Sunday in Paris for a state visit to France as the first stop of his European trip. He received a grand welcome from the French side. At the same time, President Xi’s written speech upon arrival at Paris Orly airport, the signed article published in French media Le Figaro, and the China-France-EU trilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have continued to spark heated discussions in Western public opinion, highlighting the significance of this visit at the bilateral, European and global levels.

President Xi said in his signed article that during his visit to France, he brought with him three messages from China: China will work with France to carry forward the spirit that guided the establishment of their diplomatic ties, build on past achievements and open new vistas for China-France relations; China will open even wider to the world and deepen cooperation with France and other countries; China will strengthen communication and coordination with France to uphold world peace and stability. These three messages not only demonstrate China’s concept of development, security, and civilization in the new era, but also reflect the strategic, epoch-making and global nature of China-France relations in the context of a changing world order.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France. Sixty years ago, the two countries broke through the icy barriers of the Cold War, bridged the gap between camps, and established ambassadorial-level diplomatic relations, “ripping a slit in an iron plate,” pushing the world toward dialogue and cooperation. Even today, admiration for the strategic vision and broad-mindedness of that generation of leaders remains a common sentiment from top to bottom in both China and France, demonstrating that the strategic direction of the relationship established at that time was correct and stood the test of time. President Xi’s emphasis of carrying forward the spirit that guided the establishment of diplomatic ties, namely the spirit of independence, mutual understanding, foresight, mutual benefit and win-win outcomes, shows that in the face of profound global transformations and uncertainties, it is hoped that the two countries can lead the world back to the right path of cooperation rather than confrontation, to win-win results rather than zero-sum.

We have noticed that from the conflict between Russia and Ukraine to trade disputes, some Western public opinions have previously listed a “to-do list” between China and France. China and France never avoided these issues. Over the past 60 years, the reason why China-France relations have consistently remained at the forefront of China’s relations with Western countries, pioneering many “firsts,” is not because they have not experienced ups and downs, but because they have always focused on the fundamental and long-term interests of both countries and peoples, jointly safeguarded world peace and stability, and promoted human development and progress.

Charles de Gaulle once said at a press conference after the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France, “France simply recognizes the world as it is.” He firmly believed in the long history of Chinese civilization and emphasized that global development cannot be without China. Today, as China deeply integrates into globalization, just as de Gaulle foresaw, it has a strong willingness and continues to contribute to global development. China’s expansion of high-level openness and deepening cooperation with other countries, including France, is not a forced choice, but a conclusion drawn from our own development experience and a natural result of our development needs. China offers opportunities rather than risks, and seeks cooperation rather than confrontation. As long as one can correctly grasp the main thread of comprehensively understanding China’s development, all problems will be technical and temporary.

France is an influential major power in the Western world, and its influence stems not only from its hard power but also from its longstanding tradition of independence and its unique perspective and vision. The stability and development of China-France relations will become a very prominent case in China’s relations with the West, helping other Western countries to understand China’s foreign policy and the principles China upholds when developing relations with countries of different systems and cultural backgrounds. The stability of China-France relations provides more impetus for China-Europe relations and also helps European countries to understand China in a rational, pragmatic, and objective manner and handle their relations with China accordingly.

France was the first Western power to establish diplomatic relations with China, and China-France relations have always carried the genes of influencing international relations and the world order from the very beginning. Just as President Xi said, “both China and France value independence as two major countries, and our interactions in the long course of history have released tremendous energy swaying the trajectory of the world.” Under the strategic guidance of the two leaders, we look forward to China and France embarking on a new journey for the next 60 years of bilateral relations, constantly making new achievements for global peace and stability as well as human development.

An inspiring visit to the foundation that witnesses China-France exchanges

The Charles de Gaulle Foundation in Paris, France Photo: He Zhuoqian/GT

The Charles de Gaulle Foundation in Paris, France Photo: He Zhuoqian/GT

Despite having only worked for the Charles de Gaulle Foundation for two years, Antoine Broussy, director of the foundation, can detail the circumstances through which Chinese President Xi Jinping came to the foundation 10 years ago during his official visit to France. 

“President Xi was welcomed to the foundation by Laurent Fabius, then minister of foreign affairs, and Jacques Godfrain, the foundation’s chairman at the time. To mark the solemnity of the occasion, the Republican Guard was present in front of the foundation. President Xi laid a wreath in honor of General de Gaulle in the office where he worked from 1947 to 1958. Gifts were exchanged,” Broussy recalled to the Global Times while showing a video capturing this moment.

Broussy displayed a guest book to the reporter, on which President Xi wrote “Paying Tribute to the Great Man and Composing a New Chapter in Chinese and French History,” during his visit to the foundation. 

This year, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France, President Xi pays a visit to France again, which Broussy said he is very much looking forward to.

The Charles de Gaulle Foundation in Paris, France Photo: He Zhuoqian/GT

The Charles de Gaulle Foundation in Paris, France Photo: He Zhuoqian/GT

Bold decision 

In 1964, then French president General de Gaulle made the bold decision to establish diplomatic ties with China, making France the first Western country to do so. General de Gaulle famously said, “China is a big country inhabited by many Chinese.” 

The spirit of de Gaulle, who demanded complete autonomy for France in world affairs, still inspires France today. 

Now a portrait of General de Gaulle painted by Chinese artist Fan Zeng hangs on the wall of the ­foundation. Broussy showed the office where de Gaulle used to work and ­receive guests with whom he would talk about literary and political matters. The room restores the scenarios when he worked there, a globe was placed on the upper left corner of his desk, and behind his chair was a map of France. The books de Gaulle used to read now silently line the bookshelf.

Broussy believes that the two pillars that drove de Gaulle’s decision still remain. 

“The establishment of diplomatic relations in 1964 was the result of a rational analysis of the geopolitical situation at the time, taking into account that China’s history, geography, civilization, demographic weight, and de facto existence made it impossible to ignore it as a country in its own rights. This decision was intended to level the prospects for trade and cultural exchanges, which Charles de Gaulle saw as the way to strengthen peaceful relations between nations by creating common interests,” Broussy told the Global Times. 

The Charles de Gaulle Foundation, previously Institut Charles-de-Gaulle, has operated since 1971 to publicize and perpetuate the action of General de Gaulle by offering educational activities, academic research, and policy thinking services. 

Over the years, the foundation has played a positive role in promoting cultural exchanges between China and France.

“The offspring of General Charles de Gaulle and the Foundation have continued the cause of General Charles de Gaulle and are working hard to promote China-France friendship,” President Xi said during his visit 10 years ago.

In January this year, representatives from the foundation took part in commemorative events held by the Chinese Embassy in France at de Gaulle’s former residence. Some ­Chinese students have taken internships in the foundation, and the foundation also opened the library to Chinese students and researchers, providing them with important first-hand information for understanding and writing papers about General de Gaulle. 

The foundation also conducts exchanges with Chinese think tanks and institutions. 

Broussy said that the foundation sometimes hosts young people to inform them about the deeds of de Gaulle and to pass on the spirit of de Gaulle. 

A scene inside the Charles de Gaulle Foundation in Paris, France Photo: He Zhuoqian/GT

A scene inside the Charles de Gaulle Foundation in Paris, France Photo: He Zhuoqian/GT

‘A direct dialogue’

Frédéric Fogacci, Broussy’s ­colleague and head of research and scientific studies at the Charles de Gaulle Foundation, told the Global Times that it is important that China and France maintain their stable and friendly relations in current times.

“Both China and France are involved in the global dialogue. Nothing can be done without one of them. So, they have to talk and solve some problems. The dialogue between the top leaders between China and France is somehow a direct dialogue, which is also important for the China-Europe relation,” said Fogacci.

In a showroom on the ground floor of the Charles de Gaulle Foundation, a bronze half-body statue of de Gaulle stands. He looks contemplative, apparently observing the historical trajectory of China-France relations.

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