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French foreign minister asserts European interests in four-day China exchange

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French foreign minister asserts European interests in four-day China exchange

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian arrives to attend a defence council at the Elysee Palace in Paris
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian arrives to attend a defence council at the Elysee Palace in Paris
Photo: Philippe Wojaze/Reuters

Jean-Yves Le Drian arrives in China today for a four-day cultural exchange aimed at enhancing bilateral ties.

Le Drian’s first visit as foreign minister is an opportunity to reinforce a “global partnership” as Paris signals it will adopt a more assertive role in the Indo-Pacific region.

While Emmanuel Macron is yet to define a clear Asia policy, he has expressed concern at France’s $30 billion trade deficit with China. Meanwhile, recent ministerial visits to India, Japan and Southeast Asia highlight a shift away from France’s traditionally China-centric focus and towards a multi-faceted Indo-Pacific strategy.

As the second largest maritime power in the region, France is easily the main European player. Concerns of Beijing’s militarisation of the South China Sea prompted  Le Drian to suggest Paris may soon engage in ‘freedom of navigation’ operations, although stopped short of naming China directly—after all, other states have claims in the disputed waters.

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