Has Emmanuel Macron abandoned Taiwan?
A recent Politico article has set fire to political circles with its coverage of Emmanuel Macron's comments on Taiwan, but what did he really say during his trip? Let's break down the interview.
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Table of Contents
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Last week saw French President Emmanuel Macron Travel to China alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in an attempt to work on EU-China relations.
Naturally, this set tongues wagging immediately regarding the fool’s errand that it was, with many saying that this was entirely pointless and would achieve nothing, with some even claiming that he was doing this to distract from domestic problems.
During this trip, two interviews were published, one in French and one in English/French, which touched on important topics related to how France and the European Union should view China and Taiwan.
Not only this, but a very familiar discourse regarding the future of Europe as a geopolitical entity was found throughout, and a discussion of where our priorities should lie, our goals should be, and what we should ideally be doing.
Naturally, people got very upset, and many accused Emmanuel Macron of calling for Europe to decouple itself entirely from the United States, to get closer to China, to do Xi Jinping’s work for him in weakening the West, and worst, abandoning Taiwan.
It’s all very mid-2022 “Emmanuel Macron wants to sell Ukraine to Russia”, whichhad to show regularly was not entirely truthful.
There’s a very real question about the misrepresentation of the speeches of influential leaders, which can lead to misconceptions that feed the problems in our society and worldwide and can force a wedge between voters and states.
To correct misconceptions related to Macron and Taiwan, which are born from an ‘interesting’ article by Politico, your favourite newsletter is bringing its public service and my geopolitical knowledge forward to providing you with two things:
I’ve directly translated the first interview done with Les Echos in French, and I’ve broken down the key points for your reading pleasure below, using my knowledge of International Relations and Geopolitics
I’ve included the key points from the Politico interview on this, which the publication has claimed that the Elysée Palace attempted to strangle in a way that “violates POLITICO’s editorial standards and policy”
As always, if you like what you’ve read, like this post, subscribe to. If you want to support the work done through this, why not take on a paid subscription or donate a Ko-fi?
God knows a French geopolitician needs litres of coffee in his system for all of this.
The Les Echos Interview
Nicolas Barré completed the interview below, and I fully advise you to support Les Echos if you’re a francophone, share the original article, and support Barré in his work.
Q - After your dialogue with President Xi Jinping, what can we really expect from China on Ukraine?
“I think that China makes the same observation as us, namely that today, the time is military. The Ukrainians are resisting and we are helping them. This is not the time for negotiations, even if we prepare for them and if we have to plant the milestones. This is the purpose of this dialogue with China: to consolidate common approaches. One: support for the principles of the United Nations Charter. Two: a clear reminder on nuclear power and it is up to China to draw the consequences of the fact that President Putin deployed nuclear weapons in Belarus a few days after having made the commitment not to do so . Three: a very clear reminder of humanitarian law and the protection of children. And four: the desire for a negotiated and lasting peace.
I note that President Xi Jinping talked about European security architecture. But there can be no European security architecture as long as there are invaded countries in Europe or frozen conflicts. So you see that there emerges from all this a common matrix. Is Ukraine a priority for Chinese diplomacy? Maybe not. But this dialogue makes it possible to temper the comments that we have heard about a form of complacency on the part of China with regard to Russia.”
Many actors have criticised Macron for trying too hard to engage with China, as China is considered an unreliable or unresponsive actor, Russia’s ally, our competitor, and, worst case, our enemy.
Unfortunately, Geopolitics and diplomacy necessitate that we speak to all actors involved due to the interconnectedness of all states in the global system and a need to understand what is happening in the world and the views of all actors.
Due to this, Macron has made a very clear effort to engage with all the potential actors who can impact the Russian invasion of Ukraine and lead to more responsible engagement from those who may not have any skin in the game.
As he says here, this may not be a priority for Chinese diplomacy, which will focus on its great power competition with the United States. It may also prefer to focus on building itself up and covertly supporting the Russian state and letting the US and EU tire themselves out.
But that doesn’t mean we cannot try, and as the EU and France were frequently criticised for being too slow on the ball or entirely complacent in the lead-up to the invasion, it’s in our interests to be proactive and exhaust every avenue.
Macron implicitly communicates the idea that China has a choice regarding the invasion of Ukraine: does it want to be a leader in the international order? or does it want to line up with a pariah state hell-bent on committing genocide and indiscriminately bombing men, women and children?
Finally, there’s also a small hint at the criticisms he and Von der Leyen have received for not engaging China on the question of the Uyghur concentration camps. Rightly or wrongly, it’s clear that he views the best way to handle this situation as through the United Nations and a global diplomatic effort, not unilateral or bilateral actions.
Q - The Chinese being obsessed with their confrontation with the United States, in particular on the question of Taiwan, don't they tend to see Europe as a pawn between the two blocs?
“As Europeans, our concern is our unity. It's been mine forever. We are showing China that we are united and that is the meaning of this joint visit with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen . The Chinese are also concerned about their unity and Taiwan, from their point of view, is a component of this. It is important to understand how they reason.
The question posed to us Europeans is the following: do we have an interest in speeding up the subject of Taiwan? No. The worst thing would be to think that we Europeans should follow suit on this subject and adapt to the American rhythm and a Chinese overreaction. Why should we go at the pace chosen by others? At some point, we must ask ourselves the question of our interest. What is the pace at which China itself wants to go? Does she want to have an offensive and aggressive approach? The risk is that of a self-fulfilling strategy of number one and of number two on this subject. We Europeans need to wake up. Our priority is not to adapt to the agenda of others in all regions of the world.
The trap for Europe would be that when it achieves a clarification of its strategic position, where it is more strategically autonomous than before the Covid, it is caught in a disruption of the world and crises which would not be the ours. If there is an acceleration of the conflagration of the duopoly, we will not have the time nor the means to finance our strategic autonomy and will become vassals whereas we can be the third pole if we have a few years to build it.”
Okay, this has been the contentious part, with people claiming that this is anything from Macron saying that ‘Taiwan isn’t Europe’s problem’ or that France is just giving up the ghost and sitting back to watch the fireworks.
Firstly, Emmanuel Macron states that we need to be conscious of how China views the Taiwan issue before even beginning to act. Personal/political points of view and securitising statements are at the core of geopolitical thinking and action.
Vladimir Putin’s view of Ukraine as both a blight and a necessary component of a reinvigorated Russia led to the 2022 invasion. His statements and actions linked to his view of Russia’s cultural and historical heritage clearly signposted his thinking.
It’s the same for the United States, it’s the same for European states, it’s the same for African and Middle Eastern states, and ultimately, it’s the same for China. We simply cannot discount their point of view when trying to calculate their actions.
But this then leads to the second paragraph, where Macron clearly states that Europe has to think of what’s in its best interests, think about what makes sense for itself, and stay agile in how it reacts to what will be a destructive conflict.
We also cannot afford to be involved in a conflict because the geopolitical posturing between two sides becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that is completely out of control and where, due to our proximity to one side, we are wrapped up in something that spirals out of control and which we have no influence over.
This is the trap Emmanuel Macron speaks of, where we become wrapped up in a story that prevents us from writing our own and financing what we need to be safe and secure in an increasingly insecure and dangerous world.
There’s also a simple fact that many forget: we don’t have a defensive alliance with Taiwan, meaning we cannot justify a direct military engagement with China, but alongside this, even if we did have one, we’re not close to being ready for such an engagement in the first place.
Let’s be clear: despite efforts from many of us who support Strategic Autonomy and a stronger, more geopolitical, and militarily stronger European Union, we’re very, very far away from having this.
Still, this does not mean the EU has no geopolitical interest in the region or a free, independent, liberated Taiwan. Not only are there evident humanitarian problems with an outright invasion of Taiwan by the Chinese military, but economically, technologically and strategically, this poses serious problems for our goals.
Q - Now that a growing number of European countries are turning more than ever to the United States to ensure their security, does European strategic autonomy still have any meaning?
“Of course ! But this is the great paradox of the current situation. Since the Sorbonne speech on this subject five years ago, almost everything has been done. We have won the ideological battle, from a Gramscian point of view if I may say so.
Five years ago, it was said that European sovereignty did not exist. When I brought up the subject of telecommunications components, who cared? At the time, we were already telling countries outside Europe that we considered that there was a major issue of sovereignty there and that we were going to adopt texts to regulate this, which we did in 2018. I note that the market share of non-European telecommunications equipment suppliers in France has fallen significantly, which is not the case for all our neighbours.
We have also installed the idea of a European defence, of a more united Europe which issues debt together at the time of Covid. Five years ago, strategic autonomy was a chimera. Today, everyone is talking about it. It's a major change. We have equipped ourselves with instruments on defense and industrial policy. There have been many advances: the Chips Act, the Net Zero Industry Act and the Critical Raw Material Act, these European texts are the building blocks of our strategic autonomy. We have started to set up factories for batteries, hydrogen components and electronics. And we have equipped ourselves with defensive instruments which were completely contrary to European ideology only three or four years ago! We now have very effective protection instruments.
The subject on which we must be particularly vigilant is that the war in Ukraine is accelerating the demand for defense equipment . However, the European defense industry does not meet all needs and remains very fragmented, which leads some countries to turn to American or even Asian suppliers on a temporary basis. Faced with this reality, we must step up our game.
Strategic autonomy must be Europe's fight. We don't want to depend on others on critical issues. The day you no longer have a choice on energy, on how to defend yourself, on social networks, on artificial intelligence because we no longer have the infrastructure on these subjects, you leave the story for a moment.”
Much of this is just a restatement of Macron’s Sorbonne speech and a descriptor of everything accomplished since the beginning of the first quinquennat, and notably, during the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
There’s also a descriptor of the strategic efforts being made to secure European interests, most notably the increase in the tools available to build up European defence and European industry across the board, as well as the tools and factories being built to reduce European dependency on states such as China, and with regards to semiconductors, Taiwan.
However, he makes an obvious statement that Europe is militarily not ready to handle serious conflicts, as highlighted by demand for defence equipment outstripping supply with regard to our support to our Ukrainian allies, leading to Europeans relying on the US or Asian suppliers.
This is why “we must step up our game” with regard to developing our capacity to supply our needs and those of our allies, and we need to redevelop European industries to achieve this goal.
These are all things that he said back in 2017.
Q - Some might say today in Europe that there are more Franco-Germans and less Polish...
“I wouldn't say that. We have created a European fund for missiles and ammunition endowed with 2 billion euros, but it is strictly European and closed. But it is clear that we need a European industry that produces faster. We have saturated our availabilities. As history accelerates, there must be a parallel acceleration of the European war economy. We are not producing fast enough. Besides, see what is happening to urgently deal with the current situation: the Poles are going to buy Korean equipment...
But from a doctrinal, legal and political point of view, I think that there has never been such an acceleration of [the development of] Europe as a power. We laid the groundwork before the crisis and there was tremendous Franco-German leverage during the pandemic, with very strong progress in terms of financial and budgetary solidarity. And we reactivated the Weimar format with Germany and Poland. Today, it is necessary to accelerate the implementation on the military, technological, energy and financial level to accelerate our effective autonomy.”
This answer gives much of the same input regarding the need to develop European industry, but with an added point on the fact that the idea of Europe as a power has advanced rapidly due to the repeated crises we’ve suffered.
Q - The paradox is that the American grip on Europe is stronger than ever…
“We have certainly increased our dependence vis-à-vis the United States in the field of energy, but in a logic of diversification because we were far too dependent on Russian gas. Today, it is a fact that we are more dependent on the United States, Qatar and others. But this diversification was necessary.
For the rest, it is necessary to take into account the effects of remanence. For too long Europe has not built this strategic autonomy for which I am fighting. Today, the ideological battle is won and the milestones are laid. It has a cost, this is normal.
It's like for French reindustrialisation: we have won the ideological battle, we have carried out the reforms, they are hard, we are starting to see the results but at the same time, we are paying the piper for what we had not done in twenty years. That's politics! It takes time. We have to hold on. But it is at this price that mentalities change.”
More of the same, covering the same need to develop the tools and modalities we need to achieve strategic autonomy.
Q - The fact remains that the United States is conducting a policy with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that you yourself have described as aggressive...
“When I went to Washington last December, I walked in the door, I was even criticized for doing so in an aggressive way . But Europe reacted and before the end of the first quarter of 2023, in three months, we had a response with three European texts. We will have our European IRA. Acting with such speed is a small revolution.
The key to less dependence on the Americans consists first of all in beefing up our defense industry, in agreeing on common standards. We all invest a lot of money but we can't have ten times more standards than the Americans! Then it requires accelerating the battle for nuclear and renewables in Europe. Our continent does not produce fossil fuels. There is a coherence between reindustrialisation, climate and sovereignty. It's the same battle. It is that of nuclear power, renewables and European energy sobriety. This will be the battle of the next 10 to 15 years.
Strategic autonomy means assuming that we have similar views with the United States, but whether it's on Ukraine, the relationship with China or sanctions, we have a European strategy. We don't want to go into a block-to-block logic. On the contrary, we must “de-risk” our model, not depend on others, while maintaining wherever possible a strong integration of our value chains.
The paradox would be that when we put in place the elements of a real European strategic autonomy, we began to follow American policy, out of a kind of panic reflex. On the contrary, the battles to be fought today consist on the one hand in accelerating our strategic autonomy and on the other hand in ensuring the financing of our economies. I take this opportunity to insist on one point: we must not depend on the extraterritoriality of the dollar.”
Building upon the previous point of Europe as a power, he brings up the rapid response that the EU had to the US Inflation Reduction Act and how this would have been seen as an impossibly fast reaction only a decade ago.
The development of the EU's capabilities has also allowed it to reduce its dependence on the United States. Still, we need to be much more thoughtful about what we’re doing to become more independent of the umbrella we’ve been under since the Second World War.
Unlike what many commentators have claimed, Emmanuel Macron doesn’t advocate a complete break with the United States, and you see this clearly in the third paragraph. While we are close allies with the US and can safely assume that we have very similar views, we still need to think of our position.
We cannot allow ourselves to be trapped between two rival blocs as we were during the Cold War, and to avoid this, we need to ensure that we have built a where we are in a state of safety where we have the space and ability be reflexive about our policy, as opposed to panicking due to the danger we find ourselves and reflexively reaching out to America and following their path.
Q - Is Joe Biden a more polite Donald Trump?
“He is attached to democracy, to fundamental principles, to international logic, and he knows and loves Europe, all of this is essential. On the other hand, it is part of an American transpartisan logic which defines the American interest as priority n°1 and China as priority n°2. The rest is less important.
Is it objectionable? No. But we have to integrate it.”
This restates what Emmanuel Macron has said previously regarding America as an ally.
Like all states worldwide, America has one primary interest in its geopolitical affairs: strengthening its position and defending its interests.
While many regularly attacked Donald Trump for taking on an America First position in political affairs, many forget that this has always been the case regardless of the man in the White House.
Whether you’re talking about Biden, Trump, Obama, or Bush, the simple truth is that they are the President of the United States and answer to the American people, and no matter how much they may “know and love Europe”, they have their priorities.
The reality that Macron is evoking here is that Europe will never rank high in the American ranking of interests, just as we saw during the Invasion of Iraq. As a result of this, we need to be more conscious of our own needs and interests.
Q - Isn't China the power that replaces us wherever Europe is retreating, in Africa, the Middle East...
“I do not believe this. It's been about twenty years since there's been a decline. I decided three years ago to increase our official development assistance, but after 15 years of hindsight. When Europe withdraws, we should not be surprised that others move forward. When the United States turns more towards itself as it has since the 2010s or towards the Pacific and when Europe undergoes a financial crisis, China, naturally, advances its pawns.
This is why it is important to ensure that [China] remains within a common framework, that it participates in the reform of the World Bank, that it engages with us as it intends to do at the next Paris summit, in June, on the financing of developing economies.”
This is a way of ending the interview while making it very clear why the French President is doing what he’s doing and saying what he’s saying.
Everything happening today with the rise of China is a result of the decisions of the United States and of Europe, the choices that we made and the actions that we took. If there is a vacuum to fill, it’s because that vacuum was created by those who filled it previously.
Due to this, and on top of the need to compete with China and defend our interests in several ways, it’s evident that we cannot ignore or constantly fight with them. We need to engage with them and work together with them where possible and where we can develop a system in need of improvement.
I told you this would be a long one! Go grab a coffee or something, take a minute, and then come back to read the next part! and in the meantime, if you liked this, then share this breakdown with your network.
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The Politico Article
Okay, guys, now we look at the powder keg that set off the drama.
The interview featured in the Politico article was, as far as I can tell, a collective interview completed alongside two French journalists from publications that Politico doesn’t mention, and it’s likely that one of them was Nicolas Barré from Les Echos, who published the interview above.
While the Les Echos interview above was very much structured in a question-and-answer format, the Politico article is structured in the following way, with much of what he says being paraphrased in the following way:
”Macron emphasized his pet theory of “strategic autonomy” for Europe, presumably led by France, to become a “third superpower.”
He said “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,” while flying from Beijing to Guangzhou, in southern China, aboard COTAM Unité, France’s Air Force One.”
This type of structure is problematic in many ways:
Firstly, the language used is almost derogatory. By presenting Strategic Autonomy as a “pet theory” as opposed to a serious reflection that many within the Security and European spheres are taking seriously and attempting to develop, it’s being made to seem like a project that Macron is personally trying to force on everyone just because he thinks it’s a good idea.
Secondly, this assumes that France is doing this purely to increase its power across the European Union and globally, which, while it may be a result, is not necessarily the case and misrepresents the Macronist idea that we need a strong Europe to survive in a dangerous world.
The Politico article also adds an interesting twist to the topic of EU Strategic Autonomy:
“Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party have enthusiastically endorsed Macron’s concept of strategic autonomy and Chinese officials constantly refer to it in their dealings with European countries. Party leaders and theorists in Beijing are convinced the West is in decline and China is on the ascendant and that weakening the transatlantic relationship will help accelerate this trend.”
This is a problematic connection to make:
Firstly, the link between Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party and Macron’s “pet project” makes a subtle and unpleasant connection between those seen as our competitor / our enemy and the attempts to develop Strategic Autonomy.
Secondly, This statement gives credence to the idea that EU Strategic Autonomy is a net negative to everyone involved. In all EU circles I’ve been in to discuss this, the concept revolves around making Europe more potent and more independent to protect ourselves better and be a stronger and more equal ally to the United States. Having been in discussions about this topic, I can say outright that it’s never spoken as a way of distancing ourselves from the United States, nor of weakening the US in any way.
You see this throughout the article, and some translations are made that are different to mine, which I put down to my preferring a more direct style of translation with less editing, but I’ll let you compare yourselves.
However, the next part of the article then focuses on Taiwan, and this is where things get fascinating.
Quoting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen telling Xi Jinping that “The threat [of] the use of force to change the status quo is unacceptable”, the following lines are fascinating:
Xi responded by saying anyone who thought they could influence Beijing on Taiwan was deluded.
Macron appears to agree with that assessment.
So, let’s look at this too.
Suppose you read the interview with Les Echos that I translated above. In that case, you see very clearly that Emmanuel Macron believe that we simply do not have the capacity to provide for our own defensive needs, as we’re struggling to supply Ukraine as it is. We’re struggling to impose ourselves as a Union on the Russian invasion, and we’re not able to find a way of resolving it ourselves.
He says as much in the following quote:
“Europeans cannot resolve the crisis in Ukraine; how can we credibly say on Taiwan, ‘watch out, if you do something wrong we will be there’? If you really want to increase tensions that’s the way to do it,”
And if we’re entirely honest with ourselves, this is 100% correct. We don’t have to capacity, the capability, or the will to involve ourselves in conflicts in our backyard (I’ll leave the gardening to Josep Borrell), so how on earth can we do anything in Taiwan?
This is why he prefers not to add to the flames and play with fire too close to the gunpowder that is in the Taiwan Strait. Instead, he focuses on diplomatic channels and increases cooperation and engagement to try to avoid triggering a potential invasion through posturing.
While some of us would prefer a more aggressive position on the topic, many of us share Macron’s position: we’re not prepared for this and won’t be for a while.
However, there are a set of final statements made in the Politico article that are also slightly problematic:
Covering the topic of European dependence on the US for “weapons and energy”, Macron is very clearly interested in building up EU industries in these sectors to not only build up independence but to build up European wealth and to keep EU money in the EU.
Touching on the point regarding the “extraterritoriality of the U.S. dollar”, there are genuine concerns in parts of Europe that this is used coercively even outside of times of crisis, such as dealing with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
However, the following statements do an unfair job of characterising this in a way that I view as disingenuous:
He also suggested Europe should reduce its dependence on the “extraterritoriality of the U.S. dollar,” a key policy objective of both Moscow and Beijing.
Russia, China, Iran and other countries have been hit by U.S. sanctions in recent years that are based on denying access to the dominant dollar-denominated global financial system. Some in Europe have complained about “weaponization” of the dollar by Washington, which forces European companies to give up business and cut ties with third countries or face crippling secondary sanctions.
Making a link between the statement of a European leader on the need for more independence to become a more vital partner and what the Washington Times has called “The Axis of Tyrannies” does a lot to damage what is being said by the French president.
Especially as most EU states, except for Hungary, have all supported aggressive sanctions against Russia to damage its economy and its capacity to destroy Ukraine.
Finally, the article ends with the following statement:
Admittedly, we cannot know what was omitted or removed by the Elysée. However, we can see that there are far fewer direct quotes in the Politico article than in the interview done by Les Echos, and as a result, the context is slightly different.
However, on this point, we simply do not have the information to outline what was removed or not, whether it was also removed from the Les Echos article, and whether or not it changes the story entirely.
What we do know, however, is that a statement such as the above comes across as very damaging and portrays an Emmanuel Macron who is either controlling and attempting to strong-arm the media or is afraid of having his thoughts and ideas misunderstood.
Regardless, this seems to have happened, and we’re entering a new state where you either really like Macron and what he’s saying or dislike him and what he’s saying.
So, you’ve now read both the full interview and the Politico article. I’m very curious to hear what you all think about this and whether you agree or disagree with my analysis of his interview.
Firstly, we must be clear that you don’t have to like Emmanuel Macron or what he says or believes. Our strength as a society is that we can disagree, debate, and discuss these things.
I’ll even be the first to state that he has a habit of making big statements that are far too condensed and require a degree in Macronology to decipher.
However, I've noticed that a willingness to misunderstand and misconstrue statements made by the French president has developed over the long term, which is incredibly dangerous in an age of misinformation and disinformation.
Having seen over the past few days that the Politico article has led people to assume that Macron is planning to abandon Taiwan is a case in point. At no point does he say that France or Europe will do nothing in the event of a Chinese invasion.
What Macron is calling for during the interview is the time, space, and effort to construct what we need to ensure our autonomy, our security, and our ability to act in a dangerous world.
And this, my dear reader, is an idea worth more than anything and is far more deserving of respect than the Politico article or much of its readers have unfortunately given it.
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