The United States of America is a western country. France is a western country as well. And they are both defenders of liberal values. China is a communist country in the east. So, the United States and France are allies, and China is their common foe. In common parlance, this is the narrative of global politics. But is this true? No! It is not the case. Geopolitics is as complicated as any country’s domestic politics. The only difference is that it is anarchic in nature, and the state and non-state actors’ approaches are realistic.
This means, despite the fact that the world was divided into two camps, the west and the east, there are differences among countries involved. And the relationship between the United States and France was no exception. It is becoming more visible in today’s world. This is supported by multipolarity and interest-based politics. China now sees this as an opportunity. And as a result, it is India that is getting affected by it.
Will France join the BRI?
Stuart Lau, Europe-China correspondent at PoliticoEurope, recently tweeted, “France will participate in China’s next Belt and Road Forum, Macron’s diplomatic advisor told visiting top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.”
France will participate in China’s next Belt and Road forum, President Macron’s diplomatic advisor told visiting top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry. pic.twitter.com/gY95KkxvqX
It is worth noting that, Wang Yi, the Chinese diplomat, is currently on a week-long trip to Europe. His first stop was Paris, and he plans to travel to other European countries such as Italy, Hungary, Russia, and Germany. His week-long visit to Europe is seen as an attempt by China to improve relations with European countries amid escalating tensions between the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China, sparked by the downing of an alleged Chinese espionage balloon earlier this month by the US military.
Earlier in 2022, France joined China in building $1.7 billion worth of infrastructure projects. France was the first country to collaborate with China on projects in Africa, Eastern Europe, or Southeast Asia. The two have also countries signed the Fourth Round China-France Third-Party Market Cooperation Pilot Project List. The list includes seven projects in infrastructure, environmental protection, and alternative energy.
Treaties, tie-ups, and agreements are also part of any bilateral relationship. And being sovereign, a nation has its own choices and interests when it comes to international relations. This, however, has strategic implications for other countries. China’s foreign policy has always met criticism in the west, but the fact that France is taking relations to this level is not entirely out of choice. The US-France relationship and its contradictions are also responsible for this decision of France.
Worsening US-France relations
During his presidency, Donald Trump’s confrontational stance towards Europe, which involved the threat of withdrawal from NATO and labelling the European Union as a “foe,” created significant doubt within the US-France partnership. French President Emmanuel Macron has consistently advocated for increased European strategic independence, citing France’s inability to rely on the United States in the face of Trump’s policies.
Although the election of Biden initially instilled new hope for the relationship between the United States and France, it was short-lived. Mainly, due to the disorganised withdrawal of US from Afghanistan in August 2021. It raised concerns about the US not considering French interests in decision-making.
These apprehensions were heightened the next month when France, for the first time in history, recalled its ambassador to the United States after the announcement of the Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) security partnership that replaced an earlier submarine deal between Paris and Canberra. France regarded AUKUS as a “betrayal” and was further frustrated by the US government’s failure to consult with the ally beforehand.
France is also against the EU’s reluctance over its security requirements. Emphasizing the need for a security policy for the EU, he called NATO “brain dead.” Back in 2019, in an interview with The Economist, Macron said that America is turning its back on Europe and it is time to wake up. He also said that “Europe stands on the edge of a precipice and needs to start thinking of itself strategically as a geopolitical power; otherwise, we will no longer be in control of our destiny.”
However, to his credit, Biden worked rapidly to mend the relationship by admitting his mishandling of the situation and affirming US support for Macron’s diverse priorities, such as “French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region” and “a stronger and more capable European defence.”
The recent diplomatic disagreement was mostly ignored when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, given the need for a unified reaction to Moscow. Since then, the US and France have jointly imposed harsh sanctions on Russia and provided vital aid to Kyiv, creating the impression of a reinvigorated alliance that has moved past its problems.
While the USA and other European countries criticised Russia for allegedly launching an unprovoked attack on Ukraine, France took a distinct position. Although it posed strict sanctions on Russia, French President Macron was of the opinion that the whole of the west should be ready to provide Russia with security guarantees if the nation agrees to peace talks. Macron was widely criticised for his sole sensible advice.
In 2016, Australia signed an agreement with France to procure conventional submarines. The deal is now in limbo following the 2021 nuclear submarine deal between the United States and the United Kingdom with Australia. The deal was signed under the framework of AUKUS. Though the concerns were completely different, it put France and China in the same boat. While France called it a “back stab,” China was furious about the intention behind the deal, i.e., to counter China.
The incident pushed France to deepen its ties with Asia. Subsequently, its relations with India and Japan became more engaging. Its relationship with China, however, remained unchanged. The only recent conflict between the two countries was in Lithuania. The Baltic nation supported Taiwan, against which it faced diplomatic and economic aggression from China. And, France came to support Lithuania.
But France looked forward to resolving any challenges with China through diplomacy. While France has always maintained cautious relations with China, the $1.7 billion deal took their partnership to the Indo-Pacific. This can not be a random move, as France is the first western country that is taking its infrastructure development relationship with China to the Indo-Pacific.
France joining BRI will be the biggest blow to the world and India, when it comes to countering China’s expansionist policy. As previously said, after the submarine deal was scrapped, France deepened its ties with India and Japan. The defence cooperation between India and France is at an all-time high. In that situation, France’s entry into BRI and Southeast Asia with China raises an alarm. India has not only had border issues with China, but China has engaged in muddy tactics against India in every aspect of global politics, be it economy, trade, or others.
The whole world has economic interest in the Indo-Pacific, but India has many other issues apart from trade, like territorial issues. If China builds infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific region, it will be able to play a critical role in the world’s 50% trade. Apart from that, its entry into Indian waters will also become easier.
The actual challenge after the infrastructure development will be the increase in debt trapping and wolf warrior diplomacy by China in the Indian Ocean. The Indian neighbours like Sri Lanka and Pakistan are already under the claws of the debt trap, and with the recent Deep Water Fishing (DWF) vessel incident, China has sharpened its wolf warrior tactics in the Indian Ocean.
The US failed to keep allies together, and so India is getting affected
As many as 139 countries around the world are affiliated with China’s BRI. But, to counter that, heavyweight countries like the United States, India, Germany, France, Argentina, and Spain remained distant from it. Now, if France joins BRI, it will certainly hit the western cause. And obviously, India is going to be affected too.
Because of the high cost of the projects, France will be hesitant to accept China’s aggression. And this is all happening because of the incompetent foreign policy of the United States. Its decisions have instigated a credibility crisis on a global level. The pullout from Afghanistan and its denial of military support to Ukraine are factors in its losing credibility.
In the Ukraine crisis, it first provoked Russia, then promised support to Ukraine, and when the war started, it denied military support. While the world is losing hope in the US, the US is failing to keep its allies together. Consequently, France becomes the first country to drop out of the league. For India, it is now becoming more important to not only play interest-based politics but also follow the geopolitical equations and set the agenda according to that. Otherwise, the most successful foreign policy will become obsolete.
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