French President Emmanuel Macron is in trouble, again, not for raising the retirement age, but for his recent visit to China.
Before he went, people in the democratic world hoped he would use the opportunity to relay our concerns to his host, Xi Jinping, about the Chinese Communist Party’s violation of human rights, threatening Taiwan, etc. Being a leader of a major democratic country, he has the duty to defend our values. However, after receiving royal treatment and a big contract worth billions of euros from the CCP, he conveniently forgot his duty, ignored our expectations, and became a puppet of Xi Jinping.
He declared that Europe should not “take our cue from the U.S. agenda” and be more independent from the U.S. All that was like music to Xi Jinping’s ears. Chinese media — the official CCP media, that is, since there are no independent ones — have commented gleefully that the French president’s statement “signals a dead end for the U.S. strategy of luring Europe to contain China.”
What he said caused a huge outcry from the democratic camp. A new meme, Macronizing, has been coined to mean “deliberately increasing one’s dependency on China whilst lecturing European partners about naivety and the need to boost the E.U.’s strategic autonomy.”
While many political leaders in the free world denounced him, few offered analyses of why he did it and how to reduce such defective behavior from other democratic countries. After all, the strategy of the CCP, namely, bribe and divide, works well.
How do we understand Macron’s behavior, and what the democratic camp should do about it?
First, we should not overestimate Macron’s influence. Now, almost every political and opinion leader in the democratic world has blasted him, and he has lost huge political capital and will go down in history as a communist appeaser.
Second, I don’t think that, ideologically, Macron is a true believer in Xi’s dictatorship and communism. He just said those words to please Xi to gain more economic resources from China. In this sense, he simply acted hypocritically, and he did not even believe what he said. He clearly knows that he and France are heavily reliant on the support of the E.U., NATO, and the U.S. for their security and prosperity. If deviating from the E.U., NATO, and the U.S. in favor of China could cause any retaliation from them, he would never have done it.
In this regard, he is a genius: reaping rich rewards from China for what he said while not losing any economic or military benefits from the democratic world despite what he said.
This phenomenon needs our particular attention. Many CEOs of firms based in democratic countries do just that: they follow orders from the CCP to gain resources in China while getting away with it in their home country.
This sort of hypocritical, double-dipping behavior is largely caused by a major flaw in the implicit rules of the rivalry — essentially a new cold war — between the democratic bloc and the CCP-led China. A democratic country or bloc such as the U.S. or E.U. does not and cannot punish a corporation or a state for criticizing it, whereas the CCP harshly punishes any firm or country that has said something unfavorable about the CCP. So the payoff calculation of the Macrons is clear: If they offend the CCP (by not saying what the CCP wants them to say), they will be punished and lose economic rewards from China. If they offend the E.U. and U.S. (by saying what the CCP wants them to say), they will lose nothing. So, their choice is obvious. Of course, the only thing Macron will lose, or has already lost, is face and his reputation, which wasn’t so great to start with.
What he said greatly undermined the nascent and fragile coalition of the democratic nations facing the largest threat of the century: China led by the CCP. So, we must stop it by fixing the flaw in the rivalry between the two camps. To do so, the democratic camp needs to do two things: First, tell the CCP that it cannot use trade as a weapon to coerce other nations, which is against WTO rules and international law. Second, set clear rules with teeth in the democratic bloc that may credibly punish defector-like behavior.
Shaomin Li is Professor of International Business at Old Dominion University.
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