France returning to third pole

Right when the G7 Summit of the seven wealthiest democratic nations begins in Cornwall in the south of UK, French President Emmanuel Macron dropped a bombshell, saying that France, and hopefully the European Nation (EU), will maintain equidistance from both the US and China.

“Our approach in terms of Indo-Pacific strategy is not to align with anybody. The line I’m advocating for France, and I hope for Europe, is not to be made a vassal by China nor be aligned with the United States on this subject.”

He shared these views at a news conference, highlighting that France would like to remain neutral in matters of defence in the Indo-Pacific region.

In doing so, Macron appeared to be returning to his country’s de Gaulian roots. At the height of the Cold War, former Prime Minister Charles De Gaulle saw France as a “third pole,” which was neither aligned with the United States, nor the former Soviet Union. In de Gaulle’s worldview, France was an independent player on the global chessboard, with its own set of partners and followers, attuned to the French, if not European way of life.

Interpreting Macron’s statement just before the G7 meets, author and former Indian diplomat Achal Malhotra told India Narrative in an exclusive interview that the French President has made numerous similar statements in the recent past which conclude that France considers China, at the same time a partner, competitor and a systemic rival”.

Malhotra said: “France considers there is a potential in engaging China as a partner in issues such as climate change, competing in the spheres of trade and economy and dealing in such matters through established international mechanisms such as WTO, and containing China’s aggressive expansionism”.

The former diplomat to east European nations says that it is clear that Macron is visibly opposed to any firm and loud anti-China alliance. “This anti-China alliance may be called an ‘alliance of democracies’ or by any other description but France views that such an approach would be counterproductive”.

The French leader’s opinion is significant as it comes before an extended grouping of G7. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also invited India, Australia, South Korea and South Africa to the summit under the guise of key Indo-Pacific players. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will participate virtually.

The US has been voluble about forging an anti-China alliance with like-minded countries owing to China’s territorial ambitions and its unsheathed aggression in various geographical quarters. In a recent thought paper, made public by US President Joe Biden, he had made it clear that China has come up a formidable competitor and enemy in the areas of defence and technology. Biden’s paper laid emphasis on knitting together like-minded democracies to take on China.

With the US trying to stitch together a coalition with allies in Europe and in the Indo-Pacific, the French President’s views have sprung a surprise. As Malhotra says: “In my opinion, the divergence of views within the European community in this context may impact on the US President’s desire to forge a global alliance against China to a certain extent”.

The divergence of opinion reflects some amount of confusion among the European nations.

France has, to the contrary, in February this year sent its battle ships to the Indo-Pacific for the three-month mission. The ships will sail through the South China Sea at least twice and will also hold maritime exercises with the US and Japanese navies.

France has also deployed a nuclear attack submarine in the South China Sea to re-affirm its, the European Union’s and the American government’s position on the freedom of navigation in the international seas.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed with a modified headline.)


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