François Hollande has just completed his visit to China. The two great socialist nations more or less embraced: ‘I look forward to… working with you to make our relationship closer, healthier and more vibrant,’ said Chinese president Xi Jinping.
‘When China and France agree on a position, we can drive the world,’ Hollande cooed back. Both countries agreed they wanted a ‘multipolar world’ rather than a ‘superpower’ one — meaning they’re not comfortable with America’s dominant position.
While the French president’s two-day tour of Beijing and Shanghai was probably hectic, it must have been positively Elysian compared to the troubles he’s facing back home, where ministerial scandals abound and unemployment is at its highest ever. Hollande will also be glad he’s returning to Paris with no less than 18 business deals with Beijing, including contracts for 60 Airbuses and a nuclear project. (Mind you, France is starting from a low base, accounting for just 1.3 percent of foreign trade with China, and a trade deficit of 26 billion euros with the Asian nation.)
We’re all used to political leaders embarking on foreign visits that are actually sales trips, but Hollande’s has quite a surreal quality. Having demoralised businesses back home with a slew of crippling taxes, he’s now compelled to frantically do business abroad. Committed to keeping France’s huge social security apparatus in the manner to which it’s been accustomed, he’s prepared to notch up deals with a country where workers’ rights are minimal. Welfare ends at home.
The other thing to note is Beijing’s invitation to Hollande, as some papers have pointed out, is a snub to David Cameron, who had himself hoped to be the first Western leader to be welcomed by China’s new president. Cameron is being punished for having met with the Dalai Lama in London last year, the papers say. And indeed he is, in keeping with China’s apparent policy of exploiting the rivalries between Western nations.
But why should Britain care? Whatever you may feel about the Tibetan leader-in-exile, surely it’s the prime minister’s prerogative who he wants to visit. Of course it’s great to chalk up business deals with the world’s rising (multipolar) superpower, but at what price? Is Britain to worry whether every move it makes will upset Beijing? Anyhow, it’s not only Western countries that need to do business — China does too. Always best not to look too desperate, especially at the start of a relationship.