Beijing heaved a sigh of relief at Emmanuel Macron’s decisive victory in France’s presidential election on the weekend, a win analysts say helped the continent avoid a political crisis that threatened to throw the European Union into total disarray.
Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to the 39-year-old pro-European centrist, whose 30-point winning margin was widely hailed as holding back waves of populism and antiglobalisation sentiment similar to those that propelled Donald Trump to the US presidency and drove Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
But observers say it remains to be seen if the inexperienced president-elect can rise above a fractured France and Europe, boost his country’s economy and address a raft of security and diplomatic uncertainties in a changing geopolitical landscape.
According to Xinhua, Xi expressed hopes to “work with the French side to push the close and sustaining China-France comprehensive strategic partnership to a higher level”.
“Maintaining the steady and healthy development of the China-France relationship benefits not only the two countries and peoples, but also world peace, stability and development,” he said.
Speaking to his supporters after the election, Macron, a former economy minister who ran as a “neither left nor right” independent, acknowledged that France was facing an “immense task” to rebuild European unity, fix the economy and ensure security against extremist threats.
Cui Hongjian, director of European studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said Macron’s victory was a welcome defeat of Marine Le Pen, the far-right, anti-European Union firebrand who consistently challenged China on the campaign trail.
“It’s good news for France, Europe and the whole world, but we have yet to see solutions to a host of deep-rooted structural problems plaguing the continent,” Cui said.
Concerns over rising protectionism and the stability of the EU have mounted in the last year as China has tried to forge closer ties with Europe as part of its “Belt and Road Initiative” to expand international trade.
Oliver Rui, from the China Europe International Business School, said a stable Europe was important to China as it pushed ahead with the belt and road plan. “Stability is vital to investors and with Macron’s victory, fears of instability raised by Brexit have been alleviated and confidence can be rebuilt,” Rui said.
Wang Yiwei, from Renmin University’s school of international relations , said Macron had to secure a parliamentary majority in legislative elections next month to support his pledges, and Le Pen, who vowed to become a major force of opposition, would remain a formidable opponent.
Without a majority, Macron would find it almost impossible to implement his liberal economic policies and conservative security agenda, he said.
“Whether his policies can boost France’s economy in the face of threats from terrorism is another question. Far-left or far-right policies are not working well, but it still unknown if the neither-left-nor-right policies are a good choice,” Wang said.
“Macron’s election victory just postpones concerns, but doesn’t eliminate the worries.”
During the campaign, Macron lashed out at Trump’s protectionist economic policies and climate scepticism, pledging to “forge a very strategic alliance with our Chinese partner” to combat global warming if the US rolled back its climate change commitments.
Cui said that although Beijing and Macron saw eye to eye on issues such as European unity and free trade, it was unlikely that China would supplant Germany and the European Union to become the new French leader’s diplomatic priority.
Besides, the sluggish French economy and a weaker post-Brexit EU could create fresh uncertainties for bilateral ties, he said.
“France has not been as competitive as before and the trade imbalance between China and France will remain difficult to deal with,” Cui said.
“Despite the willingness from both sides to improve relations, mounting domestic challenges can fuel anti-Chinese sentiment and dampen the prospect of warming ties.”