France and China: BFF Once More

So today is the day: the G20 summit in London. I’m pleased to report delightfully sunny, warm, no-need-for-overcoats spring weather here in NW Europe to aid the assembled world leaders in their deliberations, even though we all realize that as a practical matter that will do little but boost the ranks of protestors out on London’s streets – for today, especially, the lives of a world leader and his/her staff are bounded by conference rooms and the climate-controlled cocoons of limousines.

Belgium’s La Libre Belgique has a good run-down (Re-start more, regulate better) of the task these leaders face. The lede:

The stakes of the “Twenty,” industrialized and developing countries, are at minimum double. Consolidate the chances of economic recovery and avoid new skidding from the financial markets. The G20 will have to convince in both registers.

As La Libre reporter Pierre-François Lovens notes, Barack Obama himself has gone on record as refusing to be satisfied with leaving London having achieved only “half measures.” Yet as Lovens also writes, “Four hours, maybe five . . . That’s the time – a priori derisory enough in view of the stakes – that the heads of state and of government of the G20 will devote on Thursday, in London, to the multiple dossiers” before them at the summit. Furthermore, the basic outlines of disagreement have not changed: the US wants greater spending on stimulus packages from other governments, especially those in Europe, while for their part the Europeans reject this idea while making it clear that they are after an expanded system of international financial regulation in which “no place, no financial product and no institution can exist anymore without supervision or transparency.”

Making a true success out of this highest-level conclave does seem to be a mission impossible; of course I plan to use this forum in a day or two to survey international opinion as to whether that objective was nonetheless achieved. Meanwhile, the French news magazine L’Express carries a treatment of what might be a vital development heading into the summit: France and China reconcile.

Wait, did I hear you object out there “I didn’t know China and France were arguing in the first place”? Of course they were: China last November even called off a planned summit with the European Union (whose presidency was then held by France) because French president Nicolas Sarkozy would not call off the meeting he had planned for the following month with the Dalai Lama. That Chinese pique persisted into last January, when the country’s premier, Wen Jiabao, did come halfway around the world to do a tour of European capitals, during which he skipped France. (Sino-French relations had started going bad even before all that, back last April when the Beijing Games Olympic torch could barely be carried through the French capital due to all the mass protests, even though strictly speaking that wasn’t the fault of the French authorities.)

That’s all over with now, though. Via a communiqué released simultaneously in Beijing and Paris yesterday (Wednesday) morning – and so really at the very beginning of the gathering-in-London around the G20 summit – both governments announced that they had decided . . .

. . . to hold, at the opportune moment, high-level contacts as well as new sessions of strategic dialogue . . . with a view towards promoting bilateral cooperation within different domains and towards assuring a harmonious and stable development of Franco-Chinese relations.

(That was the version out of Paris, I suspect, since the Beijing version probably mentioned at the end of that sentence “Sino-French relations.”) Plus, Sarkozy and Chinese president Hu Jintao got together in London that same day for a private (although certainly not secret) tête-à-tête, occurring shortly after they happened to find themselves seated next to each other at the dinner for all the assembled heads of state.

So that’s nice, they’ve kissed and made up, but how did this rapprochement come about? Simple: the French have completely dropped any advocacy they once had for the Tibetans. More language from that joint communiqué: “out of respect for the principle of non-interference, France objects to all support for the independence of Tibet, in any form whatsoever.” Surrendering completely to Chinese political desires: yes, that’s no doubt an effective way to get the Chinese back on your side!

The question naturally arises: Why this now? The answer, of course, would seem to have at least something to do with this G20 summit. It’s interesting to speculate the possible impact of such a tighter Paris-Beijing axis on what happens today at the summit and what comes out of it. For example, both governments have been particularly insistent that this convocation yield solid results and not just window dressing. Sarkozy, as is well known, has even held out the possibility of walking out on it if he gets too disatisfied with the course of the procedings; President Hu, coming from the rather more decorous East, has gone nowhere near as far.

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