The tension in the Indo-Pacific region is escalating day by day due to steps adopted by the United States concerning the Taiwan issue. Washington aims to wear out China, with which it is engaged in global competition, and to besiege it in the Pacific. In light of the latest developments, which pose a high risk in terms of global security and stability, the possibility that the crisis may turn into a war has sparked fear. This has left many to wonder how European countries will react if China decides to attack Taiwan.
This opinion piece aims to shed light on France’s current stance on the Taiwan issue and provide insights into the potential policy it might adopt in the event of a conflict. As a key player in shaping European politics, France’s approach to this sensitive topic is of significant interest and warrants closer scrutiny.
In this context, it should first be noted that France is the European country that reveals its stance on the Taiwan issue most clearly. Amid the regional crisis, French President Emmanuel Macron went to China last week and made important statements revealing his country’s position on the Taiwan issue. Emphasizing that Europe should reduce its dependence on the U.S. and thus gain its strategic autonomy since he took office in 2017, Macron used the following words, which angered the U.S. concerning the sensitive Taiwan issue: “The question we need to answer, as Europeans, is the following: Is it in our interest to accelerate a crisis on Taiwan? No. The worst thing would be to think that we Europeans must become followers on this topic and take our cue from the U.S. agenda and a Chinese overreaction.”
Paris backs ‘one China’ policy
In addition to this statement, Macron said that France supports the preservation of the status quo in Taiwan and follows the “one China” policy. As it can be understood from Macron’s interrelated statements, France sees Taiwan as China’s internal issue and does not want to be part of possible tension between the U.S. and China. In other words, France does not intend to act together with the U.S. against China on the Taiwan issue, contrary to Washington’s expectations. France’s priority here is based on the goal of getting rid of foreign policy decisions that serve only American hegemony and acting in the most appropriate way in accordance with the national interests in line with the doctrine of strategic autonomy.
There are three important reasons behind France’s policy of neutrality on the Taiwan issue. Firstly, France has always been disturbed by U.S. attempts to shape European politics and dominate Europe since the time of President Charles de Gaulle. Both de Gaulle and many French presidents who came to power after him have openly expressed this discomfort. In this respect, France has always kept its relations with the U.S. at a distance and tried to act independently in accordance with its own interests on global issues, unlike the United Kingdom, which it perceives as Washington’s arm in Europe. The best example of this may be the instance of de Gaulle’s recognition of the communist regime in China with a surprise decision in 1964 as a reaction to pressures from the U.S. Accordingly, Macron’s defiance of Pax Americana on the Taiwan issue on his way back from China should not be seen as a situation unique to him and today.
Secondly, as known the U.S. established a new military alliance called AUKUS (Australia, the U.K., the U.S.) with Australia two years ago to balance China in the Indo-Pacific, and included only the U.K. from Europe in this alliance. Moreover, just after this development, Australia canceled the submarine deal worth $35 billion it signed with France in 2016 and decided to purchase submarines from the U.S. and the U.K. instead. The Paris administration, on the other hand, withdrew its ambassadors from the U.S. and Australia in response to these developments, which it interpreted as backstabbing. Based on these negative developments in terms of France, the Macron administration actually wants to make the U.S. pay the price for this backstab, by not even giving the rhetorical support Washington expects on the Taiwan issue.
No EU interest in Taiwan issue
Third, as Macron stated while returning from China, getting involved in the Taiwan issue does not serve the interests of Europe and therefore France. More importantly, as the Russia-Ukraine war that has been ongoing since last year has shown, energy and food crises have hit European countries due to sanctions measures taken due to pressure from the U.S. As a result of this, it is not in line with its national interests for France to take unnecessary risks and confront China on an issue that does not directly concern it. Here, according to 2021 data, it is noteworthy that China ranks seventh in the list of countries to which France exports the most and sixth in the list of countries to which it imports the most. Therefore, it is not rational to expect France to push its own interests into the background and take a position against China because of the Taiwan issue just because the U.S. wants it. In short, it makes no sense for France to follow the U.S. and confront Beijing over the Taiwan issue.
In addition, Macron’s following statement after his visit to China should not be overlooked: “Europeans cannot resolve the crisis in Ukraine; how can we credibly say on Taiwan, ‘Watch out, if you do something wrong we will be there?’ If you really want to increase tensions that’s the way to do it.” This statement shows that the European countries as a whole do not have enough power to solve crises that deeply affect global politics. From this point of view, while it is obvious that France and other European countries have not had a strong influence on the Russia-Ukraine war that is right next to them, it is not logical to expect them to have a game-changing effect in a possible war between two great powers or their proxies in the Pacific, which is leagues away.
As a result, France does not want to be engaged in any way in the Taiwan issue, contrary to U.S. expectations. Therefore, taking into account the vicious cycle of complications from the Russia-Ukraine war, France is expected to maintain its policy of neutrality without making any choice between parties in case the Taiwan issue turns into a hot conflict.