It is not that common for a sitting French prime minister to travel to the People’s Republic of China. Jean-Marc Ayrault is this Thursday, December 5 in Beijing for a visit which should allow him to update and clarify the rest of relations between France and China. With an emphasis on economic issues. In this logic, he takes over from the French Prime Ministers who preceded him.
After the Cultural Revolution, Raymond Barre was the first, in 1978, to pay an official visit to Beijing, which opened up prospects for economic cooperation. Then, after the Tiananmen repression of 1989, it was Edouard Balladur who came in 1994. His stay, punctuated by arrests of dissidents, was not a success. Lionel Jospin in 1998 will be content to insist on the necessary regulation of financial markets.
Establish contact with Chinese leaders
Then there was Jean-Pierre Raffarin on two occasions: in 2003, his visit to Beijing in the midst of the rhinestone epidemic – and this when many other Western leaders had canceled their visit – earned him success in the Chinese world which he still cultivates today. He returned in 2005, shortly before leaving Matignon, for a trip where he met some of those who are in power in China today. François Fillon Prime Minister was in China in December 2010. He then confirmed Franco-Chinese cooperation in nuclear matters.
This week, Jean-Marc Ayrault should be well received for at least one reason: Chinese leaders who were in business in 2012 thought Nicolas Sarkozy would be re-elected. They did not bother to establish contact with candidate Hollande. In February 2012, Laurent Fabius, who was his emissary in several countries, cut short his stay in Beijing: no Chinese leader found the time to receive him!
A four day trip
To correct this political error, Xi Jinping, who becomes secretary general of the Party eight months later, will meet the new French President on three occasions during his trip to China in April 2013. A stay in Beijing and Shanghai that hardly lasts longer a day and a half.
On the contrary, Jean-Marc Ayrault will stay for almost four days, from December 5 to 8. In Beijing, he will be received by the highest authorities of the Communist Party and the state. A meeting followed by lunch is scheduled with his counterpart, Prime Minister Li Keqiang. It will also see President Xi Jinping as well as the third figure in the hierarchy of Chinese power, Zhang Dejiang, who chairs the National People’s Congress.
The Prime Minister is accompanied by several members of his government, including Arnaud Montebourg in charge of productive recovery, Philipe Martin, Minister of Ecology and Sylvia Pinel for crafts, trade and tourism. The delegation also includes seven parliamentarians. Among them are Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Senator Robert Hue.
50 years of Franco-Chinese diplomatic relations
Martine Aubry is also on the trip: the government has given her the role of “special representative for relations with China” (read: These diplomats of a new kind). And among the six industrialists present, there is the CEO of ‘EDF, Henri Proglio, that of Areva, Luc Oursel, and Alain Mérieux. The latter, in addition to the laboratory he directs, is currently in charge of bringing together patrons for the celebrations of 50 years of Franco-Chinese diplomatic relations. The anniversary will take place on January 27th.
After Beijing, Jean-Marc Ayrault will go to Wuhan in central China, where the Peugeot-Citroën and soon Renault factories are located. He will then visit the Taishan site, near Canton, where two French-designed nuclear power plants are being built. The challenge of this trip is to succeed in opening up new areas of Franco-Chinese cooperation. Including encouraging Chinese industries or services to set up bases in France. It is likely that the overhaul of taxation recently announced by Jean-Marc Ayrault will not be on the menu of political talks. For four days, the Prime Minister can hope to distance himself from France.