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Macron Backs Down on Taiwan for Beijing's Support on Ukraine, Experts Say

French President Emmanuel Macron at the University of Amsterdam, April 12, 2023.
French President Emmanuel Macron at the University of Amsterdam, April 12, 2023.

French President Emmanuel Macron has stunned allies by saying that Europe must reduce its dependency on the United States and avoid getting dragged into a confrontation between China and the U.S. over Taiwan, a position experts say is calibrated to persuade China to mediate the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

At a news conference during a state visit in the Netherlands on Wednesday, Macron emphasized that France's position on Taiwan has not changed, and Paris favors the status quo for the island.

"It's the One China policy and a Pacific resolution of the situation. That's what I said in my one-to-one meeting with Xi Jinping, that's what was said everywhere, we haven't changed," Macron said.

The One China policy of the U.S. differs from the One China principle, which is China's view that it has sovereignty over the mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. Under the U.S. One China policy, Washington acknowledges but does not endorse Beijing's view that it has sovereignty over Taiwan. It considers Taiwan's status as unsettled.

In an April 9 interview with Politico and Les Echos, the French financial newspaper, Macron said that Europe must avoid the risk of "getting caught up in crises that are not ours."

"The paradox would be that, overcome with panic, we believe we are just America's followers," he said. "The question Europeans need to answer … is it in our interest to accelerate [a crisis] on Taiwan? No. The worse thing would be to think that we Europeans must become followers on this topic and take our cue from the U.S. agenda and a Chinese overreaction," Macron said in the interview.

Macron made his comments after spending some six hours with Chinese President Xi Jinping while visiting China from April 5 to 7. His statement drew criticism from some politicians and scholars in Europe.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump, who is now seeking the Republican Party nomination for a second term, told Fox News, "Macron, who's a friend of mine, is over with China kissing [Xi's] ass in China, okay. I said France is now going to China?" Trump said.

His relationship with Macron evolved to "frenemy" by the time Trump left office, according to France 24.

Analysts told VOA Mandarin that Macron might be sacrificing France's position on Taiwan in exchange for China's mediation of the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Tung-Chieh Tsai, a professor at the Graduate Institute of international Politics at the National Chung Hsing University in Taiwan, told VOA Mandarin that the Ukraine crisis is having a substantial impact on the daily lives of many Europeans as immigrants stream in and commodity prices rise. This puts European leaders "under great pressure" to help reach a cease-fire.

"I think France is looking for Beijing's support to reach a cease-fire in the Ukraine conflict, so it's making a gesture to support China in the Taiwan issue first," Tsai told VOA Mandarin in a Zoom video chat Tuesday, adding that Macron's statement is honest.

"If Europe can't even manage the Ukraine crisis, which is happening at its doorstep, does it really have the ability to be involved in any crisis in the Taiwan Strait?" Tsai asked.

In the short run, Macron's words might cause some disturbance, Tsai said, but in the long run, it forces the world "to see the reality and look for a more practical solution to the Taiwan crisis."

Lun Zhang, a professor of Chinese studies at CY Cergy-Paris Université in France, echoed Tsai.

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin in Moscow, March 21, 2023.
Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin in Moscow, March 21, 2023.

"I think the most important task of Macron's visit was drawing a red line for Beijing, that is, China can't get involved in supporting Russia in the Ukraine crisis," Zhang told VOA Mandarin in a phone interview on Wednesday. "This touches the fundamental interests of the whole European continent."

Yet, Zhang said, the timing of Macron's statement was "extremely inappropriate," as Beijing just finished three days of combat drills simulating the sealing off of Taiwan. The action was to protest a meeting between U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on American soil.

Zhang said that Macron's statement damaged France's image and caused conflict within Europe.

Francesco Sisci, a senior China watcher, said Macron's visit was "a failure," because China did not publicly make any promise on mediating the Ukraine crisis.

Sisci said that while it would be helpful if China could play a positive role in solving the Russia-Ukraine war, Beijing has expressed willingness to speak to Ukraine but the conditions for this are unclear, according to Reuters.

The Wall Street Journal reported on March 13 that Xi plans to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but that meeting has not happened yet. Zelenskyy suggested to China on March 21 that it join a Ukrainian effort to end the conflict.

Sisci added that the world should not over interpret Macron's position on Taiwan, since the pro-business French government will likely continue to authorize arms sales to Taiwan. He also argued that even if France is not going to be a U.S. vassal, it does not mean that France will take China's side.

"Not being a U.S. vassal does not mean being a Chinese vassal. In fact, throughout their history, France and the United States always have a very special relationship," Sisci said, "France can say the most ugly things to the United States, but in the end, Paris has always chosen to ally with Washington."