The Great Wall of China separating Biden and Macron | Policy

The world is not divided between “democracies and autocracies”. Washington’s approach to China is dangerously confrontational. The Ukrainian conflict is to bring Russia to the negotiating table. Unilateral sanctions are not legitimate. The United States starts a trade war against Europe. NATO must stop opposing European defence.

To say that France disagrees with the United States on most issues would be a serious understatement. Yet during last week’s high-profile state visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to “his friend Joe” in Washington, the two partners played a big role, giving the impression that they were living in the land of milk. and honey.

President Biden should be credited with pulling it all together. He arranged for “his friend Emmanuel” to have the first state visit of his presidency, a distinctive honor for France. Amid much glitz and pageantry, we were carefully treated to long displays of friendship between the two leaders, including effusive slaps and a friendly dinner in DC with their wives.

At a joint press conference, Biden even appeared to have made efforts to curb his notorious propensity to buzz out of consideration for Macron’s time in the spotlight.

There were also a few meatier morsels that French diplomats could go home with as proof that they had maintained the line of being “allied but not aligned” with the United States, and that they had pushed Washington into the good direction. Biden has said he would be willing to meet with Vladimir Putin to end the conflict in Ukraine, a reversal of his earlier stance and a nod to Macron’s efforts to keep diplomatic channels open with the Russian leader. Since then, the White House has reported that the conditions are “just not at a point” for such a meeting to take place yet.

The US president has promised to look into what he called ‘problems’ in his multi-billion dollar Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which is seriously hurting Europe’s electric vehicle industry by the through “buy American” restrictions and massive state subsidies to American companies. A day earlier, the French president had denounced the package as “super aggressive” and posing the risk of nothing less than “fragmenting the West”.

Their joint statement painstakingly listed the two countries’ common positions on everything from Ukraine and European Security in Iran, the Middle East, climate change“the importance of African voices in multilateral forums” and a commitment to strengthening the global financial architecture.

But there was one notable omission: how to deal with China, which Biden identified as the biggest threat to US interests and security.

“China poses the greatest challenge to the world order, and the United States must win the economic arms race with the superpower if it hopes to retain global influence,” states the current US National Security Strategy. United. If so, should this be included in a statement intended to demonstrate the closeness between Washington and Paris?

Except that the approaches of the two countries could not be further apart.

Although the joint statement mentions “China’s challenge to the rules-based international order”, it only indicates that the two countries are committed to “coordinating their concerns” – an indirect acknowledgment that they are currently anything but. coordinated. This shouldn’t be a surprise.

Paris has always been very suspicious of the Biden doctrine which fundamentally defines the current era as “a competition between democracies and autocracies”. Seen from France, this black and white framework is considered too ideological, geopolitically inapplicable and obviously self-serving. “A lot of people would like to see that there are two orders in this world,” Macron said during a trip to the G20 in Indonesia last November. “It’s a huge mistake, even for the United States and China. We need a one world order.

It’s no secret that France and several other European countries have been less than enthralled by what they perceive to be Washington’s overly aggressive stance toward China, including escalating rhetoric about a potential conflict in China. the Taiwan Strait.

It is not that France has any illusions about the inescapable nature of the rivalry between the world’s two largest economies, or about China’s hegemonic movements in the Indo-Pacific in recent years. But Paris believes that the differences must be managed within the existing multilateral frameworkand aimed at reducing, not aggravating, tensions.

During the G20 summit, the French president stressed that China had clearly distanced itself from Russia over time and could play an important mediating role in the Ukrainian conflict. He also stressed that Beijing is committed to the existing world order and that President Xi Jinping shares his commitment to the United Nations — a transparent rebuke to the US position that consistently portrays Beijing as a revisionist power determined to displace the West.

The next day in Bangkok, Macron’s words were even more pointed: “We are in the jungle and we have two big elephants, trying to get more and more nervous,” he told the audience. “If they get very nervous and start a war, it will be a big problem for the rest of the jungle.”

France has long been a supporter of a multipolar order in which the great powers balance each other out and agree to play by common rules. This suits both its traditional Gallic distrust of American hegemony and France’s perception of a “middle power with global influence”, to use the famous expression of Hubert Védrine, former Minister of Foreign Affairs. . “We don’t believe in hegemony, we don’t believe in confrontation, we believe in stability,” Macron told his Asian audience last month.

To Washington’s ears, that may sound selfish, but the reality is that for most of the world, it’s a far preferable alternative to a new Cold War between two economic and military hegemons.

The public spectacle of bonhomie between Biden and Macron cannot hide these deeper tensions. Their teams hailed the French president’s visit to Washington as a success. But in terms of addressing the biggest risk factor in international relations – the possibility of escalation between the United States and China – the results have been far more modest: the big nothing.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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