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Published: 01:32, April 27, 2023 | Updated: 10:28, April 27, 2023
France bets on future by backing best global alternative
By Richard Cullen
Published:01:32, April 27, 2023 Updated:10:28, April 27, 2023 By Richard Cullen

Recently, the former senior Singaporean diplomat and respected geopolitical consultant Kishore Mahbubani offered Australia some acute advice: Stop betting on the past. Mahbubani’s article was figuratively bookended with visits to Beijing by President Emmanuel Macron of France (shortly before publication) and President Lula da Silva of Brazil (soon after publication).

It looks clear that these two world leaders have separately comprehended the essence of Mahbubani’s advice. Notwithstanding extensive headwinds arising from amplified geopolitical tensions and the pandemic, China has kept on thinking, planning, educating, creating and building, applying the same collective diligence and intelligence that has underpinned the most extraordinary economic rise and reduction of extreme poverty the world has ever seen.

The early benefits of this renewed, post-pandemic application of the Chinese version of looking forward and getting on with life are already apparent. Reuters recently reported that China’s growth in the first quarter of 2023 was 4.5 percent on an annualized basis, beating the forecast 4 percent and well up from the 2.9 percent growth in the last quarter of 2022.

These are early days in the recovery, of course, and China faces immense ongoing challenges as it works to secure, over time, a minimum level of moderate prosperity for all 1.4 billion Chinese. President Macron knows this — as do all the other key leaders visiting Beijing this year. Macron also knows that, just as his top priority is advancing the national interests of France, Beijing’s gaze is similarly fixed on China’s primary interests. Within these clear, nationally focused objectives, however, leaders like Macron and da Silva can see what an evidence-based, positive view of the future China projects and how the whole world — not just China — can benefit from the rise of China.

Macron’s candid, reasoned remarks, offered directly after his recent China visit, argued in favor of engaging with China and avoiding conflict over the Taiwan question. These comments sparked foreseeable spasms of disparagement verging on rage, especially across the Anglosphere. The Economist, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and many others joined in the pile-on.

Notwithstanding ongoing, vehement street activism objecting to the augmented French retirement age, it is still implausible to think that France may now be in increased danger of having a Washington-shaped “color revolution” visited on it. It is far too powerful, and the ties that bind France and America remain strong. But you can judge from the high-volume vilification of Macron’s China observations that there are some within Anglosphere citadels who may wish that this were an option.

Beyond any such regime-change dreams, however, what is the grounded geopolitical reality that Macron, da Silva, and others can perceive today when they look toward Washington?

Professor David Campbell, an insightful English commentator, recently provided this concise framework for understanding where we now stand: Unless one wants the human race to fail, one could not want China to fail; if China gains living-standard parity with the West, it is simply a matter of logic that it is set to become the leading power in the world; and the US has to recalibrate its foreign policy accordingly.

This, though, is just what US is not doing, probably out of pique. However, seriously concerned American commentators have recently confirmed how badly distorted American foreign policy has become, driven by political tribalism, inequality and gridlock combined with underperforming diplomacy and paranoid groupthink manically fixated on the “China threat”. The now-dominant US response to this American-incubated threat is to seek out still more ways to throw further sand into the Sino-gearbox based on a sinister hope that the rise of China can be halted — or better still, reversed — never mind any noxious impact on global poverty reduction or that a shooting showdown over the Taiwan island may be triggered. This is the project (framed in the language of rights and democracy) that the US urgently wants its allies to join.

In 2008, the US faced a massive financial meltdown following the collapse of the Lehman Brothers bank, which, in turn, was triggered by the home-baked financial regulatory failure that had the subprime mortgage detonation at its core. The US, with significant offshore assistance (including from China), survived this extreme emergency — but not before America had exported the consequent global financial tsunami to the rest of the world.

Political polarization in America has now permeated all its revered governance institutions (even the semi-sanctified Supreme Court) to a degree not seen previously in the postwar period. The US is, thus, gripped by a massive internal political crisis in the lead-up to the next presidential election in November 2024. This has substantially driven the global export, by America, of an intense geopolitical polarization crunch, which can aptly be viewed, in good part, as a reckless attempt to try to deflect attention from, and buy time to manage, America’s deeply troubling internal political shortcomings.

A politically ruptured, globally disruptive superpower that often seems frighteningly violent: This is what the rest of the world increasingly sees as they gaze on the US. This imagery may be most vivid within the global south. But it’s clear that President Macron, among others, is picking up the same signals. And he will not have forgotten how Australia and the US, with UK support, hoodwinked France out of a huge submarine contract with almost no warning in 2021. Macron said afterward that he did not think that then-Australian prime minister Scott Morrison lied to him — he knew it.

Notwithstanding those infuriated reviews in the mainstream Anglo media, Macron was comparatively measured in his China-visit comments. In particular, he sharply understands the fearsome Taiwan danger zone into which the US is leading others as it relentlessly pursues its grand, now-fundamentally pessimistic worldview. He made it clear that France is not betting on the past — but backing the best global alternative for a positive future — as he rejected participation in yet another grim repeat of American war-tilted adventurism.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs lately argued that “China’s remarkable economic accomplishments since the late 1970s are wonderful for both China and the world”, confirming, in a nutshell, why Mahbubani is right on the money in advising Australia as he did. I bet that the “drover’s dog” (as they say in Australia) appreciates this — even if Canberra still cannot grasp how foolish it is to allow Washington to shape Australian priorities so perilously.

The author is an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Law at Hong Kong University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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