France, China Entering New Era, French Minister Tells Caixin

By Qing Ying and Xu Jiajing
French Economic Minister Bruno Le Maire (third from left, shaking hands with Chinese Vice Premier Ma Kai) said that there are no major problems standing in the way of Sino-French trade relations moving forward. Photo: Visual China
French Economic Minister Bruno Le Maire (third from left, shaking hands with Chinese Vice Premier Ma Kai) said that there are no major problems standing in the way of Sino-French trade relations moving forward. Photo: Visual China

China and France held their fifth High-Level Economic and Financial Dialogue late last week in Beijing. French Minister of Finance and Economy Bruno Le Maire and Chinese Vice-Premier Ma Kai co-chaired the annual dialogue. The two sides reached 71 agreements during the meetings, agreeing to boost cooperation in automobile, aerospace, nuclear power, advanced manufacturing, the Belt and Road initiative and other areas. In an interview with Caixin reporter Qing Ying on Friday, Le Maire said that the dialogue will serve as a positive prelude to French president Emmanuel Macron’s visit to China in January. Le Maire also called for the Chinese government to make further progress in opening China up to French companies.

Caixin: After meeting with the vice premier today, how do you feel about this trip?

Bruno Le Maire: It was a very fruitful meeting. We have been able to reach a compromise on many issues. It will be the beginning of the new era in the economic relationship between France and China. The purpose of my trip to Beijing was to prepare for the French president’s next visit. We now have a solid basis for having huge success during Emmanuel Macron’s visit to China

Caixin: What will be the main topic of Emmanuel Macron’s visit to China?

Le Maire: The economy will be one of the main topics. We have been able to register some important steps forward with Vice Premier Kai today, in the sectors of aeronautics, agrobusiness and banking. We’ve reached some compromises and have some concrete projects on the table. I think it is very positive for the visit of President Macron in general.

Caixin: What do you think of the relationship between China and France?

Le Maire: There are always some problems. But frankly speaking, in the economic field, I do not see important issues between France and China. Of course, there are always some points we have to improve. I think the question of the openness of the market might be one question on which we could make some progress. But we are on the right track with the willingness from both sides to move forward.

Caixin: President Macron is now pushing forward the European integration and you also emphasized cooperation between Germany and France. Now the coalition talks in Germany have stalled. Do you think there is a good chance for France to gain more power within Europe?

Le Maire: The point is not to gain power within Europe. The purpose of President Macron is to have a better and stronger integration within European countries. When we want to move that way, we need to support Germany. The bilateral relationship and friendship between France and Germany is really at the core of European integration. So we are waiting for the new German government. I think we should not have to wait too long because the process is now once again on the right track. At the beginning of the next year, 2018, I think we will have all of what is required to make a step forward in European integration. President Macron will want to see a concrete improvement of the European situation.

Caixin: Emmanuel Macron is now waiting for (Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union to enter into) coalition with the Social Democratic Party, so do you think it is a good chance for European integration?

Le Maire: Yes, I think China should not be afraid of the situation in Europe. Because when you are looking at the current situation, a strong power in France with President Macron, a new majority, we have adopted many very important reforms for pushing forward the French economic recovery, such as reforms of tax, liberal market and universities. These are the three key reforms for improving the economic and social situation in France. I am deeply convinced that it will pave the way for a further and stronger relationship between our two countries. We have exactly the same goals. President Macron and (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel want a stronger integration of the eurozone and of European countries, which means you should have a stronger Europe for the sake of stability and growth in a few years. And it is in the interest of China to have a stable and stronger Europe.

Caixin: Are you worried that the fiscal integration between the European countries, especially the joint budget, will further make central and eastern European countries more skeptical toward the EU?

Le Maire: I don’t think so. All that we are doing with Germany is opening up to other countries. We are doing nothing against other European countries. We want to do everything with the other European countries. Of course, first with the members of the eurozone, because there is a logic in that choice. We are 19 members in the eurozone, we have the same currency, the euro. This is the logic of why we try to improve the situation to support economic growth within the framework. It will remain open to the other European countries. We are 27 member states, which belong to the same political and economic project. We are all deeply convinced that united we are stronger.

Caixin: Do you think China’s growing influence in Eastern Europe is a threat to France?

Le Maire: I don’t think so. There’s cooperation between China and eastern countries which is called the “16+1” China European Initiative. We are also willing to reinforce economic cooperation between France and China. This cooperation and this development of trade should be based on reciprocity. If the new relationship between China and Europe is based on a level playing field and reciprocity, there won’t be any problems.

Caixin: The European commission is now pushing for a wide-range investment in the UNCAC review mechanism. Do you think it is possibly anti-China?

Le Maire: No, it’s against no country, it is just for the sake of protecting our strategic sectors. And every country does the same. We fully understand the choices made by the US and China. Nobody would criticize Europe when we want to do the same. We have very critical and strategic sectors, for instance, in the field of energy and defense. It’s just for the sake of protecting our strategic interests.

Caixin: France is now being criticized for stronger protectionism. Do you think France will be more and more cautious to Chinese investors?

Le Maire: I don’t understand this question. That’s not the case. We have just adopted with Vice Premier Kai a joint statement between China and France to have more investment in very important fields like the banking, aeronautical and financial sectors. I think this is clear evidence that we are an open country, open to investment, growth and economic recovery. Chinese investors are mostly welcome in France. The rules must be the same for everybody. If French businessmen want to invest in China, we want the same openness just like Chinese investors feel in France. We want China to be as open as France and Europe.

Caixin: What do you think of the possibility of Paris becoming the most important financial center in Europe?

Le Maire: Paris has a lot of key advantages to become the most important financial center in Europe. First of all we have important banks which have the power and the basis to be attractive. We also have measures to provide stability. Third, there has been the recent decision of European countries to have the European banking authority located in Paris. It’s a clear signal that Paris is becoming one of the most important financial centers in Europe.

Caixin: What are your main expectations for the China and French relationship in the future?

Le Maire: Let’s make a dream. Having a stronger economic relationship would be in the interest of both countries. Having more cooperation in the field of technological innovation would also be in the interest of our two countries. China and France are two big countries of innovation with research, labs and everything required to be an innovative country. Innovation is the key for the future, for the economic growth. The last point is that cultural communication is the basis to build up a solid friendship between us.

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