IN Chinese culture, the year of the pig is believed to be the best year of the Chinese zodiac: a year of prosperity, well-being, and accomplishment. I hope that this year will be marked by much success in the France-China relations. This year President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to France and President Macron is planning to visit China. The visits fully demonstrate the heights to which the France-China relations have reached.
Great Progress Achieved
The most important achievement of the last 55 years is the dialogue which has been established between our two countries at all levels, from the highest authorities, ministers, congress members to the lower social levels of both countries. The friendship that binds our two countries together also makes a very open and frank dialogue possible on all subjects, even when we may not agree with each other. On the economic front, we put priority on cooperation with China in the fields of nuclear energy and aeronautics.
Jean-Maurice Ripert, French ambassador to China.
Our two great countries, with rich history and culture, are both permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. As a result, both countries are therefore entrusted with particular responsibilities in response to crisis and global challenges, like the fight against climate change, combatting terrorism, financial development, the fight against all forms of discrimination, and the promotion of human rights in particular. On all these subjects, we have been having a very intensive dialogue with China, and together, we are able to formulate initiatives.
The France-China comprehensive strategic partnership is also part of China’s key relations with Europe, because the future of the EU is exactly the future of our French people. I often bring people’s attention to the point that the EU is China’s biggest trading partner. It is therefore important that the China-France and China-Europe dialogues advance together.
Environment, the Primary Concern of Bilateral Cooperation
Our cooperation in the field of environment is vital, especially since Washington changed its policy in this regard. After the United States announced its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change, it was essential that someone take the lead, and it was China who decided that in cooperation with France and the EU to translate this agreement into concrete actions at the international level.
The commitment to protecting the environment at the international level must be concrete, and this is the subject of current discussions among China, France, and all the major countries of the world. It will probably be necessary to increase the areas of the Paris commitments, because, unfortunately, the efforts are insufficient. During the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, France, China and the UN adopted a tripartite declaration to clarify their commitment in environmental protection. The protection of biodiversity is also an essential point of our cooperation. In 2020, China will host COP 15, the 15th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on biodiversity, and a few weeks before that, France will host the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) World Congress. Together, we are preparing for these two deadlines, and we expect to deliver even greater results. Finally, France has proposed to the United Nations the adoption of a global environmental pact, and we appreciate the support of China.
At the bilateral level, we place special emphasis on all areas relevant to sustainable development and ecological transition. Last September, China launched the satellite CFOSAT, which is dedicated to research on environmental issues. This came as the result of exemplary France-China cooperation. All data collected by the satellite will be accessible to the international community. In our attempt to develop clean and low-carbon energy together, the nuclear power sector, the world’s first PWR (Pressurized Water Reactors) power plant inaugurated in Taishan is another demonstration of France-China cooperation. We also want to work together to develop cooperation projects in other countries to support their efforts to address climate change, under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, for example.
Hi-Tech Is the Strength of Cooperation
France is a leader of science and technology, especially taking a leading role in the development of highly specialized fields like artificial intelligence. France has the fourth largest number of annual patent applications and the largest startup accelerator in Paris. Therefore, I believe we can do so much together in both fundamental research and practical cooperation.
On February 11, 2019, a reception for the Chinese New Year is organized at the Paris City Hall in the presence of the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo (seventh left) and the Chinese ambassador to France, Zhai Jun (sixth left).
In many areas, we need to promote the cooperation between our businesses as well as our institutions. In the field of agriculture, the French Minister of Agriculture has signed a cooperation agreement at the sideline of the first China International Import Expo held in Shanghai, with special focus on agroecology.
During her visit to China at the end of February, the Minister of Research and Innovation identified seven priority sectors for our cooperation in research and innovation: the environment and climate change, space, health, agriculture, particle physics, advanced materials, and artificial intelligence.
Enhancing Reciprocity in Economic Cooperation
France and the European Union must celebrate the constant willingness reaffirmed in recent years by the Chinese leadership that China will continue to open up. Those who believe that isolationism or protectionism are consistent with the trend of modern development are wrong. While we are very delighted with the announced commitments of China, what we would really like to see is concrete results.
As for the new law on foreign investments, we look forward to seeing both the content of that law and how it will be applied. The revision of the negative list is going in the right direction. With regard to market access, the tariffs on hundreds of products will go down, so everything is going in the right way. We welcome the resumption of beef imports from France and hope to speed up the necessary processes for our businesses.
China and the European Union are negotiating an agreement on protecting investments, and we hope the process proceeds quickly and is fully enacted. The result of this agreement will increase the confidence of enterprises.
From another perspective, we are sorry for China’s investment deficit in France, and will do everything we can to stimulate Chinese investments with excellent conditions.
Improving Connectivity between Europe and Asia
Our position on the Belt and Road Initiative was clearly defined by President Emmanuel Macron in the speech he delivered last year in Xi’an. We fully recognize the merit of the initiative, and agree that infrastructure investments need to be increased to improve connectivity between Europe and Asia. This is also the exact meaning of the EU’s Eurasian connectivity strategy. Our president hopes that this initiative shall possess three characteristics: benefitting not only Europe and China, but all the countries along the Road; building a “green Silk Road”; complying with the highest international standards, particularly in terms of transparency, conditions of competition, and financial sustainability.
Promoting Cultural and People-to-People Exchanges
Cultural and people-to-people exchanges are an essential part of our bilateral relations, because in order to have exchanges, you must first know each other; but to know each other, you have to be able to talk to each other, and in order to talk to each other, we have to see each other. This means we should act now — the Chinese go to France, and the French come to China.
As far as tourism is concerned, we are very satisfied. Outside Europe, China is the second country after the United States with the largest number of international tourist visits to France. The number of Chinese tourists to France in 2018 alone reached 2.3 million. Chinese tourists love France, French lifestyle and French culture. With this large interest of tourism from China, we are now working to facilitate the reception of Chinese tourists.
Such exchanges need to continue and expand between students, professors, and researchers.
To promote a greater cultural awareness between both countries, we have major plans for cultural exchanges, including the opening of a Pompidou Center in Shanghai and a Rodin Museum in Shenzhen. Preparations for large exhibitions are also in the making: a Picasso exhibition in Beijing, and an exhibition about the Silk Road in Paris. The protection of heritage is also a major priority for France-China cooperation, for the preservation of our tangible and intangible heritages is of great importance to young people.
Since languages play a fundamental role in these exchanges, we hope that the teaching of Chinese in France and the teaching of French in China will thrive in the future. By the way, I would like to remind you that the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) with 88 members is the second largest organization in the world after the United Nations. So it is our hope that the opening of the Alliances Française in China will facilitate language learning, and that China will consider the possibility of making it compulsory to learn a second vibrant language in secondary education. We should all speak English, that’s true, but it should not prevent us from learning other languages.