Exclusive: Interview with French President Emmanuel Macron

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BEIJING, Jan. 8, 2018 — At the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Emmanuel Macron, president of the Republic of France, will pay a state visit to China from Jan. 8 to 10. To mark the 54th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations on Jan. 27, China.org.cn had an exclusive interview with the French president right before his visit. Macron spoke on a host of topics, including the two countries' diplomatic ties, China's Belt and Road Initiative, global anti-terrorism operations, international cooperation and solutions for climate change. The following is the transcript of the interview:

China.org.cn: Hello, Mr. President. You are going to undertake a state visit to China at the beginning of 2018. It will also be your first visit to China since your election as President of the French Republic. Can you tell us what expectations you have for your visit? Which topics will you give particular attention to? What are your thoughts on China?

Emmanuel Macron: I've had several excellent interactions with President Xi Jinping, whom I met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg. He invited me to undertake a state visit to China, which I accepted with great enthusiasm. We hoped that the visit would take place at the earliest possible date, so that together we could define the direction of our comprehensive strategic partnership for the next five years. It's my first state visit to China, and to Asia as well. It is of great importance.

Similar to many French people, I find China to be a fascinating country – the oldest living civilization, a “State older than History” as General de Gaulle said. I'm very aware of the mutual fascination that ties China to Europe, woven along the ancient silk routes that connected Xi'an to the eastern Mediterranean. Our relationship is anchored in time, and in my opinion is based on civilization, in the sense that France and China are two countries with very different cultures but which both have a universal calling. They are two countries that have always been eager, across distances, to meet and recognize each other. It's for all these reasons that I wanted to start my state visit in Xi'an – it's a way to experience ancient China.

I also want to experience the China of today, and to meet its youth, its entrepreneurs, its artists, its researchers. For France, China is a political, economic, scientific and cultural partner of the highest importance. Through the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1964, France was the first Western power to recognize the People's Republic of China. In 1997, we were the first to establish a comprehensive partnership. Our relationship has always been pioneering. We must remain at the vanguard.

Consequently, I hope that this visit will allow us to inscribe our comprehensive strategic partnership in the 21st century, so that it reflects how our two countries are today and puts us in a position to respond together, in a decisive manner, to current challenges: the maintenance of peace and stability which have been put in danger by terrorism and nuclear proliferation, the preservation of the environment and the fight against climate change, and free trade between populations and between nations.

China.org.cn: The 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) established Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and presented the goals and future direction of China's development. What are your thoughts on this? Since you were elected President of France, you've proposed a series of reforms marked by a “quick, precise, and concrete” character, creating a new atmosphere in your country's domestic situation. In your opinion, what will be the new developments in Sino-French relations within the framework of their comprehensive strategic partnership in this new era? In what domains will the two parties strengthen their cooperation?

Emmanuel Macron: I followed the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party with great attention. It's not my place to comment on the sovereign choices that China makes for itself, but I noticed in particular the continued focus on openness, the pursuit of reform, the emphasis on innovation, the qualitative content of growth and the preservation of the environment. These are elements that will allow us to give new impetus to our partnership.

Following the 19th CPC National Congress and the profound political changes in France, which are strengthening us in our will and our ability to reform Europe, the moment is ripe with opportunity. Our country is once again on the international stage. I'm implementing an agenda of transformation that aims to strengthen our country and its ability to innovate,  to create jobs and to “liberate creative energies” by giving back  to our citizens the possibility to act. I'm doing this with great determination, but also with pragmatism, a cherished virtue in China. My approach is to say what I do and to do what I say, precisely, thoroughly, quickly. This applies on the domestic scene but also in our relations with important partners. I wish to work with President Xi Jinping on a precise roadmap for the next five years and to pursue very closely and attentively its realization. There are three key areas of priority. 

The first relates to our global agenda. Multilateralism is currently undergoing a crisis. We have to give it a new dynamic by constructing responses to crises through dialogue, by fighting climate change, by defining the best rules for commercial exchange. I'm convinced that France and China, which are two powers of multilateralism deeply attached to their independence, can work together in changing the situation. Because the challenges that we must confront, most specifically climate change, are creating  a need for global coordination, for the first time in the history of mankind.

The second issue concerns our bilateral agenda. China is our most important commercial partner in Asia. We've developed structuring partnerships in civilian nuclear energy and aeronautics. The forthcoming opening in Taishan of the first EPR in the world, which is French-Chinese, demonstrates our ability to undertake ambitious industrial projects together. The direction of Chinese growth towards quality and the new expectations of the Chinese people are opening up new possibilities in sectors where French businesses offer an internationally recognized savoir-faire: the food-processing industry, ecological transition, health, care for the elderly, industrial modernization, innovation, tourism, financial services and the art of living, without forgetting sports, seeing as how our two capitals will be hosting the Youth Olympics two years apart from one another, in 2022 and 2024. This suggests that we need to increase and rebalance our economic and commercial exchanges. This is one of the important topics that I'll bring up with President Xi Jinping.

Culture, education and science must be central to our partnership. France welcomes more than 37,000 Chinese students and is the top non-Anglophone destination outside of Asia for Chinese students. More than 700 agreements tie our universities and higher education establishments together. Two million Chinese tourists come to visit our country each year. France has the most important Chinese diaspora community in Europe. These human connections are the true engine of our relationship. My visit will allow us consider a whole series of projects that will give the opportunity to our students, entrepreneurs and artists to interact more and undertake initiatives together.

The third issue concerns relations between Europe and China. The European Union is China's number one commercial partner in the world, but the European-Chinese partnership is not at the level it should be. The project I'm undertaking for a strong, sovereign, united Europe that projects its interests and values throughout the world will make Europe  a natural partner for China in responding to global challenges. I also hope that we will carry the European-Chinese partnership into the 21st century. 

China.org.cn: December 12 marked the second anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, the signing of which illustrated the joint efforts of China and France in the struggle against climate change. China has announced that it will spend 20 billion RMB on the creation of a “Chinese fund for South-South cooperation against climate change”, further expressing its determination to actively participate in climate governance. But after American President Donald Trump announced his country's withdrawal from the agreement, the Green Climate Fund, meant to assist developing countries in coping with climate change, has found itself with a financial deficit of 2 billion dollars. In your opinion, what impact will the U.S. withdrawal have on the implementation of the Paris Agreement? What is your evaluation of China's efforts in the fight against climate change?

Emmanuel Macron: China's role in the fight against climate change is essential. Without its determination we wouldn't have reached the Paris Agreement, and without the steadfastness of its engagement the agreement would likely not have withstood President Donald Trump's decision. I've said what I think about his decision: I respect it but I deeply regret it. France and China have given a very firm response together: the Paris Agreement isn't renegotiable, we will continue putting it into operation as planned, along with everyone else who refuses to turn their eyes away from this issue, which is vital and pressing for humanity. Everyone needs to play their part, without ever thinking that the struggle against climate change is someone else's problem, because we are all directly affected by it.

Now, we have to move faster. This was the goal of the One Planet Summit that France organized last December 12 in order to bring together relevant actors and to mobilize financing. Twelve new and very concrete commitments were agreed upon, and they will be very quickly implemented, because we can no longer wait to take action. China has once again risen to the challenge. It announced its decision to create a unified national carbon market, which represents a determined step forward for the pricing of carbon throughout the world. The measures taken by China to achieve its “ecological advancement” goal are impressive. We are accompanying this transition, which is in line with deeply held expectations of the Chinese people, through the French Development Agency: 25 of the 30 projects that have been financed in China since the beginning of its activities 15 years ago contribute directly to the fight against climate change, with spending that has reached 1 billion euros and with significant results, including the creation of a biomass power plant in Yichun, the thermal rehabilitation of public buildings in Wuhan and the conception of a French-Chinese eco-neighborhood in Chengdu.

At the international level, after the American decision, I believe that the fight against climate change relies in great part on the abilities of French-Chinese co-leadership. We are going to strengthen our dialogue in anticipation of the COP 24 in 2018 and the United Nation's Convention on Biological Diversity, which China will host in 2020. I also hope that we will work together on the Global Pact for the Environment, which France has brought to the United Nations in order to bring international law in line with the challenges of our time. In short, we put the environment and the climate at the heart of our partnership. This provides us with significant opportunities. I'll give you an example: Last year, we organized a French-Chinese month on the environment. 100 events took place, with 160,000 participants in 18 Chinese cities. Imagine what this means over the course of a year! I hope that we'll mobilize all the energies of France and China to transform the fight against climate change into an unprecedented opportunity for cooperation and to show the world that we can succeed. In France, we've launched a website, Make Our Planet Great Again, to bring together initiatives that are beneficial for the climate. It is both in French and English. From now on, it will also be in Chinese, because it's with China that we want to, and can, succeed.

China.org.cn: In May 2017, during the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, President Xi Jinping proposed the construction of a path for peace, a path for prosperity, a path for innovation and a path for connecting different civilizations. The Belt and Road Initiative connects the economic circles of Eastern Asia, the most dynamic in the world, and the EU, the largest group of developed economies in the world. What do you think of this initiative? In your opinion, how will the Belt and Road Initiative help to strengthen interconnection and exchanges with regards to investments, commerce and human exchange between China and France, China and Europe, and even Asia and Europe?

Emmanuel Macron: The Belt and Road Initiative, launched by President Xi Jinping, is very important. I'm convinced that it can play a major role in structuring the Eurasian region and that it represents a real opportunity to create bridges, through exchange, between countries and civilizations, just as the ancient silk routes once did. It's also important to work for better connectivity between Europe and Asia, something we passionately yearn for. I think it's very important that Europe and China strengthen their collaboration on the initiative. France is ready to play a leading role in this. We must identify concrete projects to implement together in Europe, in Asia and in third countries. We must strive for a good relationship with multilateral authorities in order to assure the coherence of our objectives. We must aim for the best environmental outcome, with, for example – this is an idea I propose – the objective of creating ecological silk roads in the coming century. We must do it within the framework of a balanced partnership, in which the rules of finance correspond to our standards and to what we're seeking together. We also have to be on the lookout for opportunities to cooperate with the states, businesses and civil society of various partner countries. I'm convinced that if we succeed in advancing in such a way, we will be able to contribute to defining the equilibrium of contemporary multilateralism. 

China.org.cn: What will be France's response to the frequent terrorist attacks throughout the world, to the instability of the international situation and to the marked growth of uncertainty? How will you work with China on these issues?

Emmanuel Macron: The fight against terrorism is one of top priorities in the world. In Iraq and Syria, we are participating in the international coalition, whose actions have brought about a fatal blow to Daesh's territorial ambitions. In the Sahel, France is playing a leading role, through Operation Barkhane, in the fight against terrorism in a region that covers Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger, and supports the activity of the joint force comprising these five African countries, the G5 Sahel. To bring a lasting end to this scourge, military action won't be enough.

We have to dry up the sources of terrorism financing. This is the objective of the international conference for mobilization on the fight against the financing of terrorism, which we will organize in Paris next April, to which China is invited. I hope to work actively with China in anticipation of this meeting, but also within the framework of the G20 on the role of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which we hope to strengthen. We must also find political solutions for the crises that in many places – in Syria, in Libya, in Africa and also in Asia – have paved the way for terrorism, which feeds off the chaos they produce as it does from the weakness of states. Regarding Libya, for example, the current situation is in large part the result of military intervention that wasn't joined with a political solution, and I recognize that errors were committed at that time. We've consequently worked to revive the political process within the framework of the United Nations. This is also the direction of our efforts on the Syrian crisis.

More generally, when facing crises, instability and threats against peace and international security, we need to relentlessly seek out paths for international cooperation and to inscribe our responses within a multilateral framework. Regarding North Korea, a subject that I'll bring up with President Xi Jinping during my visit, we'll shoulder our responsibilities with China at the United Nations Security Council for the strengthening and full application of sanctions, in order to bring the North Korean regime back to the negotiating table. I expect much from the indispensable pressure China can exercise on North Korea in order to encourage it to change course.

China.org.cn: With the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union underway, with Germany's domestic situation characterized by uncertainty, with European integration facing challenges, you've proposed to develop a timetable for reviving the European Union at the beginning of 2018. Can you tell us more about the specific plans you have for revitalizing the European Union? In the wake of Brexit, will it be possible for France to become the new financial center of Europe?

Emmanuel Macron: Challenges have always pushed Europe forward; confronting them is the source of its ability to innovate and create. Today we are facing a choice that will be determinant for the continuation of our shared adventure: What kind of Europe do we want for tomorrow? By electing me as President of the Republic, French people have chosen Europe, while others have turned away from it. The path of renunciation was unambiguously offered to them, but they decided to refuse it. This is a strong and brave choice. Since my election, I've consequently hoped that France will carry a message in support of rebuilding Europe. We must give ourselves the means for true European sovereignty on security and defense, on questions of immigration, on foreign policy, on ecological transition, on technology, on everything relating to economic and monetary power. These are the topics we will reflect upon with Germany, with all of our partners and with the European institutions during the coming months in order to produce results that are concrete, visible and quick for our citizens. I know that China wants a strong and stable Europe that will be a strategic partner in globalization. This is my goal as well.

The British have decided to leave the European Union. This is a decision we regret but also respect. Concerning the new economic and financial order within the European Union after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, it's still too early to comment. On the other hand, what is clear is that our goal is to confirm the leadership role of Paris's financial market in Europe. We have the best offer. Paris is a world city and a global financial center, which is supported by a regulatory and fiscal environment that we are making much more appealing and by a robust development of startups and high technologies. The Parisian financial market, and especially Paris EUROPLACE, is currently intensifying its work to strengthen our leadership role for the development of activities and operations denominated in RMB in Europe.

China.org.cn: During a visit to Africa, you declared that “French will be Africa's first language” and “maybe the world's,” which provoked some very animated discussions on the internet, what is your response? It's well known that China and France have close connections to Africa; in your opinion, in what domains will the two countries develop their cooperation with Africa in the future?

Emmanuel Macron: French is currently the fifth most spoken language in the world, the fourth language on the internet, the third language in business, the second language of international information in the media, the second working language for the majority of international organizations and the second most studied language in the world. According to projections, a figure of 770 million French-speakers is forecasted for 2060, 85 percent of which will be in Africa. I support this enthusiasm. In my view, the French language is universal – it's not limited to France.

Today, China has a very strong presence in Africa, a continent in which it's heavily invested with a financial capacity that we don't have. At the same time, France has a deep knowledge of Africa because of its history, its proximity to the continent, its diaspora communities, which China doesn't have. We consequently must work together for

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Maria Burns

Maria Burns

Maria is a Viral News Editor who graduated from the University Of California. She likes social media trends, being semi-healthy, Buffalo Wild Wings and vodka with lime. When she isn’t writing, Maria loves to travel. She last went to Thailand to play with elephants and is planning a trip to Bali.