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France’s Macron stirs confusion, criticism with Taiwan comments

#Frances #Macron #stirs #confusion #criticism #Taiwan #comments

French President Emmanuel Macron risks creating fresh confusion among his Western allies and encouraging China with his latest headline-grabbing foreign policy comments, this time on Taiwan, analysts say. 

Returning from a trip to China, the 45-year-old French leader told the US-based Politico site and France’s Les Echos newspaper that Europe shouldn’t be a “follower” of the United States in the event of conflict with China over Taiwan.

“The worst thing would be to think that we Europeans must be followers and adapt ourselves to the American rhythm and a Chinese overreaction,” Macron was quoted as saying.

He added that Europe “should not be caught up in a disordering of the world and crises that aren’t ours”.

Such comments could be seen as longstanding French foreign policy, which seeks to underline French autonomy, and they also reflect growing unease in Europe about the continent being sucked into a confrontation between China and the United States.

But many analysts and politicians in Europe and the United States questioned the timing — when Washington is investing billions in European security through its support for Ukraine, and when Western unity is seen as particularly important.

“In terms of communication, it’s a fiasco,” Antoine Bondaz, a China expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research, a Paris-based think-tank, told AFP. 

He said Macron had implied that Washington was responsable for tensions over Taiwan, rather than China.

“You have a revisionist power which wants to take control of Taiwan, which wants to change the status quo, but you present the United States as being responsible for the instability? It’s a complete reversal of the responsibility for the tensions,” Bondaz said.

He suggested the biggest impact would be China believing that France — and perhaps Europe — would not intervene if Beijing invaded and seized control of Taiwan.

“It weakens the deterrence,” Bondaz said. “And if there was one lesson that we should have learned from Ukraine, it’s that we didn’t succeed in deterring (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”

– ‘Strategic nonsense’ –

In the United States, the White House on Monday sought to play down the controversy, saying the United States had a “terrific bilateral relationship” with France.

But Republican Senator Marco Rubio posted a video online suggesting that Washington should re-think its own priorities. 

“If Macron speaks for all of Europe, and their position now is, they’re not going to pick sides between the US and China over Taiwan, maybe then we should not be taking sides either . . . and (let them) handle Ukraine,” Rubio said. 

Influential Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted that Macron’s visit to Beijing “emboldens the communists and (Chinese) President Xi who seems to be hell bent on rewriting world order and taking Taiwan by force.” 

Ivo Daalder, the head of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a former advisor to US ex-president Barack Obama, also objected to Macron’s view that Europe should not get caught up “in crises that are not ours.” 

“But he is perfectly fine with relying on US security commitments to address crises like Ukraine in Europe. That’s not ‘strategic autonomy.’ That’s strategic nonsense,” Daalder wrote on Twitter.

Norbert Roettgen, a conservative German lawmaker and foreign policy expert, told Bild newspaper that “Macron seems to have completely lost his senses.”

– ‘Element of ego’ –

The French president’s office sought to downplay the comments on Tuesday.

“Europeans have their own interests and acknowledge them transparently and with loyalty towards their allies and international partners,” an aide said. 

“The president has often said that France is not equidistant between the United States and China. The United States is an ally. We share common values.” 

But other observers pointed to other past examples when Macron has antagonised allies, such as when he called the NATO military alliance “brain dead” in 2019 or when he suggested Putin should not be “humiliated” in Ukraine last year.

“A misunderstanding can be an explanation once,” Le Monde newspaper wrote on Tuesday. “But when it happens so often, it’s the way of conducting foreign policy that is at fault.”

Macron has often talked up his willingness to be “disruptive” as a political leader and he has sought to position himself as a visionary leader in Europe. 

But critics see him as out-of-touch and frequently over-confident in his own ability to influence others.

Mujtaba Rahman, a European affairs expert from the London-based Eurasia Group, said that the timing of Macron’s comments on Taiwan was “poor”.

But he added on Twitter that it was “most likely just Macron being Macron, thinking ahead in an interesting way but not measuring the immediate political impact of his words.” 

But for Bondaz “it’s his personality and there’s an element of ego.”

He argued Macron is “convinced that he understands better than diplomats and experts who are working on these issues every day.”

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