Global Partnership

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Thesis Proposal

French-Sino “Global Partnership” under Chirac: Achieving Common Goals?

Nadège MANISSIER(娜德芝)


Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies


The recent reemergence of China on the international scene has led to some growing concerns on his potential to change the current international status quo and the implications that would mean for both the regional and the global stability. This rise has affected the significance of China in the foreign policy of most countries, as well as the development of China’s foreign policy. Some states, afraid of the threat that the emergence of China as a great power could pose, have tried to contain China and to limit its regional and international influence. Others, as it is the case of France, have started early to develop bilateral ties with China because both countries were pursuing similar strategic goals. Indeed both France and China are not satisfied with the status quo with the United States as a hegemon and one of their priorities is to try to modify this tendency of a unipolar world. However, Paris and Beijing have adopted different approaches of international relations and diplomacy; while France highlights more the power of prestige, the use of economic tools for political bargaining, and soft power, China emphasizes more on the power of aggressiveness, the use of both economic and military tools for political bargaining and hard power. This paper aims at explaining the approaches of France and China on the international system, how this affects their choices to set their strategic goals and their foreign policy, how these differences altered the French-Sino “Global Partnership” during Chirac’s presidency, and what is the global impact of their cooperation. Finally, it will discuss the prospect of the Sino-French relationship.

Historical Background

France was one of the first countries, after the states of northern Europe, to recognize the PRC as the sole legitimate government of China in 1964 and to develop close ties with the PRC at the initiative of De Gaulle. On January 1964 the PRC and France established diplomatic relations at ambassadorial level. Despite their domestic political divergences, Mao Zedong and Charles de Gaulle had an underlying reason for the development of this relationship: the willingness to be freed from the bipolar world of the Cold War. China wanted to distant itself from the Soviet Union and France aspired at setting itself apart from the United States. Therefore, the intentions of Mao Zedong and Charles de Gaulle for beginning a relationship were not far from the intentions of Jacques Chirac and Jiang Zemin, but the latter wanted to emancipate the world from the hegemony of the United States, which was a less achievable aim.

During the 1970s and 1980s, as China went through major changes with Deng Xiaoping’s 4 modernizations, the Sino-French relationship saw a steady development. The PRC admission in the United Nations in 1971 favored the recognition of the PRC by most of the Western countries before 1980. France along with other states started to sell small quantities of weapons and military equipment to the PRC. However, in reaction of the Tiananmen massacre on June 4th 1989, the European Union decide to suspend its economic and cultural relations with China, and to implement the arms embargo against China on the behalf of human rights, democracy and freedom and try to isolate China. France was one of the member states which strongly supported this decision.

Nevertheless, this reaction seemed ineffective and dangerous and the European Union quickly understood that a policy of integration towards China would be more successful, therefore the member states of the European Union decided to adjust their strategy and to move toward the engagement of China. France was the first country to resume its relations with China in spring 1991. After the resumption of the relations, a real rapprochement began between France and China at the exception of a setback during the early 1990s following the sale from France of six Lafayette Frigates and 60 Mirage 2000-5 between 1990 and 1993 to Taiwan.

The reasons of this close partnership were the cooperation on a number of international issues (the settlement of the Cambodia issue for instance), the reinforcement of China economic reforms, and the return of the neo-Gaullist party in power in France. On 12 January 1994, Paris and Beijing signed a communiqué in which France promised the end of the sale of offensive weapons to Taiwan. This document helped the relationship to get back on track and paved the way for a closer cooperation. It is in this climate of a new trust that Jacques Chirac was elected at the presidency of France in 1995. The neo-Gaullist foreign policy of the new elected president confirmed the intentions of France to build an even more intimate relationship with China.

On May 1997, during Chirac’s visit to China, The French president and its Chinese counterpart agreed upon the establishment of the Sino-French “Global Partnership”. It was the second time that China established such a partnership. The first one had been signed with Russia on May 1996, and France thus became the first Western country to set up a comprehensive partnership with China. The cooperation agreement was based on shared views on a large number of international issues such as non-proliferation, the Middle East, multipolarity, etc. It settled regular meetings of Chinese and French officials, and was to promote political, economic and cultural exchanges.

Following the signature of the 1997 partnership, France stopped supporting the resolution for the condemnation of China human rights violation in the United Nations Human Rights Commission. This leading move from Paris was soon followed by other European member states and indicated the firm decision to unequivocally upgrade its ties with China. In 2002, the re-election of Chirac and the continuity in its pro-China policy enabled France to prolong the improvement made in the cooperation with China.

In the years of early 2000s, the relationship was in good shape. In 2003, France, along with Germany, called for the lift of the ban on arms sale to China which was extremely appreciated by China. Jacques Chirac argued at the time that the arms embargo on China was obsolete and inutile given that the European Union had implemented the 1998 ‘code of conduct’ applicable for the arms sales to all countries. This legally not binding code declares that EU member states should "exercise special caution and vigilance" to sell arms where "serious violations" of human rights have been declared by the EU, the Council of Europe or the United Nations. In terms of cultural relations, the partnership was improved by the cross-cultural years, with the Year of China in France in 2003-2004 and the Year of France in China in 2004-2005.

The visit of President Hu Jintao in Paris was the occasion to elevate the “Global Partnership” to a “Strategic Global Partnership” for the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two parties. The joint statement set the development guidelines for an all-round strategic partnership between China and France and the key fields where the two nations would intensify their cooperation. According to the French government, this declaration “enshrines major advances in many fields, including multilateralism, non-proliferation and human rights”.

In 2007, the Sino-French relations took a new direction with the end of Chirac’s Presidency, and the election of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Research motivations

An important number of scholars and researches have talked about the unsuccessful cooperation between China and France, or to be more accurate the unilateral success of China and the lack of positive outcome for France. A significant amount of literature exists on the issue of lift of the arms embargo, the human rights dialogue, pointing at France’s policy toward China. But few of them really succeed of explaining the underlying reasons pushing France to please China. The economic reasons are admittedly important but not satisfactory to explain this behavior, especially when a lot of researches have rightly pointed out that the privileged relationship of Paris with Beijing does not enable the economic advantage of France since Germany enjoys better economic relations with China for instance. The purpose of this dissertation will be to determine what are the underlying forces driving France to act so friendly towards China and push it to the building this long-term partnership with the PRC.

Moreover, few researches have been carried out on France-China relations and one can only find a handful of scholars in that realm because most of the researches have been performed on Europe-China relations, with a slight emphasis on the three major EU countries, France, Germany and Great Britain. Focusing more on the Sino-French relationship and on the specific question of the “Global Partnership”, my contribution can thus be substantial.

Research Objectives

This research aims at showing the different vision of international relations between France and China. The opposite views that they have lead them to pursue different priorities in their domestic as well as in foreign policy. The dissertation will demonstrate that the distinctive supremacy of certain concerns on each side impacted the favorable outcome of the “Global Partnership” during Chirac’s presidency (1997-2007). But even more important that the mere success or failure of the partnership is the implications for the regional Asian security that such a cooperation can bring.

China being seen a true friend (正友 zheng you) and a responsible stakeholder by France cannot be without any repercussions. The final objective of this research is to demonstrate the danger for the regional security, the lack of positive outcome for France and the miscalculated choices to attain its strategic goals of this inaccurate vision that France cultivated of China.

This aim will be pursued by analyzing French and Chinese approach of national interest and use of power in international relations, assessing their respective foreign policy and especially France’s China policy as well as the way it affected the results of the cooperation agreement from 1997, date of its signature, to 2007, date of the end of Chirac’s presidency. Furthermore, this dissertation will discuss the implications of such an agreement and based on the findings conclude on the perspectives for the future Sino-French relations.


France’s and China’s different understanding of the international system is an obstacle for the full achievement of the stated goals of their cooperation agreement and can endangered the stability of the Asian region by enabling China to gain leverage.

Definition of terms

  • Global Partnership” or “Comprehensive Partnership” (quanmian huoban guanxi 全面夥伴關係 in Chinese or partenariat global in French): joint declaration signed on 16 May 1997 in Beijing between Jiang Zemin and Jacques Chirac. The ten pages declaration codifies the bilateral relations between France and China as well as international relations. The declaration lists eight sections under which numerous subjects can be discussed: strengthening a multipolar world, contributing to the reform of the UN, promoting disarmament, protecting the environment, fighting drugs, criminality and terrorism, strengthening development aid, supporting multilateral trade and respecting plurality.

  • Global Strategic Partnership” or “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” (quanmian zhanlue huoban guanxi 全面戰略夥伴關係 in Chinese or partenariat strategique global in French): Joint declaration signed on 27 January 2004 in Paris between Hu Jintao and Jacques Chirac during the visit of the Chinese President in France for the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-French diplomatic relations. The declaration expresses three domains of priority of the bilateral relations: the reinforcement of the multilateral system for collective security, the encouragement of the resolution of global issues, the consolidation of the Sino-French bilateral relations at the heart of the European Union-China relation.

Theoretical framework

As said earlier, this paper will show that China and France have different perspectives on the international system which affects the national and strategic goals they choose to pursue as well as their respective foreign policies. The definition of these goals can be an obstacle for their cooperation agreement. I will argue here that China understands the international relations in a neorealist way whereas France has developed a neoliberal approach of it. The main differences between both theories can be explained by the table 1.

A certain vision of world politics, the international system, and international relations as a whole, leads countries to pursue certain objectives and affects which set of goals prevails. This set of goals will in turn influence their foreign policy (see flowchart 1). In some instances the set of goals of two countries can overlap, thus creating a set of common objectives (see fig.1). In the case of France and China, they share two major goals that are classified in their top priorities: balancing the power of the United States and accelerating their economic growth. The cooperation then becomes the tool of achieving those objectives. However, what is important to be highlighted is that this common set of goals may not have the same relevance in the eyes of France and China. China might consider developing its military capabilities more important than improving its human rights records. Moreover, along with those common goals comes a set of different goals, which may even oppose China and France on some issues such as human rights, the Taiwan issue, etc. Finally, when countries find common goals, their view may differ on the means to achieve them. For China and France this can be seen in their difference of using their diplomatic instrument, one opts for an aggressive diplomacy to get what it wants, the other for a soft diplomacy.

What are the roles of the rest of the objectives of France and China which are not part of the common ones? How do they influence the Sino-French relationship? Does France enjoy a room a maneuver, an influence on the objectives of China which are contradictory to it owns? Regarding the different means used by France and China to reach their objectives, how can they successfully cooperate? I will show that regarding the importance for France to abolish the hegemony of the United States and boost its economy, President Chirac was willing to close his eyes on certain issues and accept China aggressive diplomacy in order to reach its objectives.

Table 1: Main differences between neorealism and neoliberalism





State is the most important actor

Multiple channels of access between societies


Centrality and necessity of military power

Low salience of force, power also measured in other terms.

Hierarchy of issues

Strong hierarchy

No hierarchy


Relative gains: competitive international system

co-operation = difficult;

Absolute gains: co-operative international system

co-operation = more rational and likely than competition

Participation to International organizations

only if they perceive short-term, material gains

Helps to overcome obstacles of interdependence; actors perceive long-term benefits

National goals

Military security and economic development

Variety of state goals

Nadege Manissier, December 2010

Flowchart 1: Process of setting common goals

Nadege Manissier, December 2010

Fig. 1: the delimitation of common goals

Nadege Manissier, December 2010


This dissertation will use several methodological approaches: critical analysis, qualitative research, and interviews.


The thesis will work with primary and secondary sources. The documents provided by governmental agencies of which the joint declaration of the “Global Partnership” and of the “Global Strategic Partnership” will be analyzed. The author will also use books, journals and newspaper articles from France, China, and other countries which can be concerned by the partnership like the United States to document its research, as well as statistics provided by EUROSTAT, the official European statistical agency. The scholars on Sino-French relations being just a handful, I will carry out interviews to gather and analyze their respective opinion on the question of the outcome of the partnership. Here, it has to be highlighted that the small number of scholars on Sino-French relationship may affect the variety of point of views showed in the dissertation.

Literature review

As said just before, the number of influent scholars in the area of Sino-French relations is very restricted and is limited to these few names: Francoise Mengin, Jean-Pierre Cabestan, Francois Godement and Valérie Niquet. In this small group of scholars, two of them distinguish themselves from the two others on the importance that Taiwan takes in their works. Indeed, Francoise Mengin and Jean-Pierre Cabestan attach an important role of the Taiwan issue on the bilateral relations of any country with China and especially of France with China. The relation described or explained thus becomes a triangular relation more than a bilateral one. On the contrary, for Francois Godement and Valerie Niquet, the issue of Taiwan seems to be placed at the same level of importance that other issues such as human rights. However, the settlement of the question of Taiwan, peaceful or not, will have an enormous impact on the Asian region, an impact that the human rights issue will surely not create.

However, these authors have a high number of common views. First, they all question the favorable outcome of this partnership with China. Some admittedly criticize more avidly the global partnership, such as Jean-Pierre Cabestan who qualified the signature of the joint declaration as “unwise”, while others like Valerie Riquet reassess only the lack of effectiveness of French governments which did not succeed at gaining the favor of Beijing and let the partnership be a tool used by the Chinese government to achieve its own goals and not common ones. The asymmetries between China and France can be seen in the political realm, with France who has to please China and fulfill the conditions that Beijing set, and in the economic realm, with the ever-growing trade deficit between both parties.

Second, they insist on the need of the Sino-French relationship to be part of a greater whole. They underline the desideratum for France to work on the Common Foreign Policy and to give the European Union a coherent and greater role in Asia. France being one of the three main states of the EU, they should work together instead of competing against each other, and therefore create a successful coalition. They also highlight the necessity for France’s China policy to be encompassed in a larger Asian policy and to revise their strategic goals and positions in Asia if France wants to be a part in the most dynamic region of the world in the 21st century and limit the prominent role of the United States.

Finally, it is the very essence and raison d’être which is questioned by the authors with a reassessment of the reasons which brought China and France to cooperate. Both countries felt that building a multilateral world and continuing their economic growth was their priority. But the authors indicate the gap between discourses and actions. Indeed, the top priority of China seems still to be the maintaining of its political system, when the international community pushes for more reforms, and the State security.

Arrangement of Chapters

Chapter 1: Introduction

  1. Research motives and objectives

  2. Proposed Methodology

  3. Analytical and theoretical Framework

  4. Scope and Limitations of research

Chapter 2: Background of the French-Sino relations

  1. French-Sino relations under De Gaulle

  2. French-Sino relations under Pompidou and Giscard d’Estaing

  3. French-Sino relations under Mitterrand

  4. French-Sino relations under Chirac

Chapter 3: Theory and Approach

  1. Different approaches of international relations

    1. France neoliberal approach

    2. China neorealist approach

  2. Common stances on the international system

    1. Vision of the World Order

    2. Toward a multipolar World

  3. The use of different political tools

    1. Hard power vs. soft power

    2. Aggressive diplomacy vs. soft diplomacy

    3. Military threat vs. economic threat

Chapter 4: Policy and decision-making process

  1. France

    1. Foreign policy decision-making process

    2. Chirac’s Foreign Policy

    3. Chirac’s China Policy

  2. China

    1. Foreign policy decision-making process

    2. China’s Foreign Policy

    3. China’s France Policy

Chapter 5: The “Global Partnership”

  1. Drivers

    1. Strategic

    2. Economic

    3. Political

    4. Cultural

  2. Scope

    1. Strategic

    2. Economic

    3. Political

    4. Cultural

  3. Assessment

    1. Strategic

    2. Economic

    3. Political

    4. Cultural

Chapter 6: Implications and Prospects

  1. Strategic

  2. Economic

  3. Political

  4. Cultural


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