Many promises, few facts from Emmanuel Macron's visit to China
by Bernardo Cervellera

The French president’s silence on human rights is criticised. Other than a general statement to work together, nothing was said on the matter. The contract to buy 184 Airbus has not yet been signed. With China everything is postponed to the future. Xinhua appreciates Macron's humility. A European business and human rights strategy is urgently needed.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Chinese and Western media are striving to evaluate the results of French President Emmanuel Macron’s three-day visit to China (8-10 January).

In Western media, the impression is that many promises were made but with few facts in the offing, not to mention the shameful silence on human rights issues.

The Voice of America, CNBC, and especially Le Monde highlight Macron’s courage in calling on China to play a greater role in halting global warming, demanding more balanced trade (imports worth 45 billion from China against 15 billion French exports to China), and a deeper cooperation in sports and art with the “Chinese civilisation”.

All this has led to Beijing’s pledge to purchase 184 Airbus A320, a contract that will be drawn up soon, not now. Vésuve de Brekka, a bay gelding offered by Macron as a present to President Xi Jinping, will also be given soon, but not yet since it is currently in quarantine.

The joint declaration signed by the two leaders, a text of almost seven thousand words, is full of such promises.

They include a pledge to bring the “strategic partnership between China and France to a new level”, to “promote the process of world multipolarity and multilateralism based on international law”, and to “combat all forms of protectionism”

Likewise, the two countries say they want to work together on issues concerning Syria, Libya, Iran, Middle East, the Korean Peninsula, Africa, as well as environmental protection and global warming, aeronautics, agriculture, food, science and technology, the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 and the Paris Summer Olympics in 2024.

Lastly, the two parties note that "China and France stress the importance of the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations to the development of all countries".

Precisely on human rights, readers and commentators (like Thierry Wolton) in Le Monde say that Macron’s courage failed, that he did not to speak out on certain cases, like that of Liu Xiaobo’s wife Liu Xia, Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti, activist Wu Gan, or Tibetan intellectuals, which several NGOs had highlighted before the French president's trip.

For Wolton, "Macron hides behind the 'higher interests' of the State to forget the most elementary of democratic principles". Conversely, China welcomed Macron's silence.

In an editorial published in Xinhua, journalist Liangyu wrote that the Chinese people appreciated his "humility", which will allow the French leader to "work with China" against "Populism and nationalism with a strong protectionist flavour”, for an “open global economy”.

The reference here is to Donald Trump and European populists. But what about China's own protectionism, its ban on investments in various fields, its support for Chinese exports with Xi Jinping acting as a defender of globalisation. Here all that Macron got was a pledge for future "collaboration".

Perhaps Europe, which is so eager to trade with China, should come up a unified strategy so that Europeans can be as free to invest in China as the Chinese are in Europe.

The same goes for human rights. If respect for human rights is important in Paris it should also be the same in China, in actual terms and now, not only on paper and in the future.