Thesis Proposal
French-Sino “Global Partnership” under Chirac: Achieving
Common Goals?
Nadège MANISSIER(娜德芝)
Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies
We act according to the way the world appears to us, not necessarily according to
the way it “is”.
Kenneth E. Boulding, 1975
he recent reemergence of China on the international scene has led to some growing
concerns on his potential to change the current international status quo and the
implications that would mean for both the regional and the global stability. This rise
has affected the significance of China in the foreign policy of most countries, as well
as the development of China’s foreign policy. Some states, afraid of the threat that the
emergence of China as a great power could pose, have tried to contain China and to limit its
regional and international influence. Others, as it is the case of France, have started early to
develop bilateral ties with China because both countries were pursuing similar strategic goals.
Indeed both France and China are not satisfied with the status quo with the United States as a
hegemon and one of their priorities is to try to modify this tendency of a unipolar world.
However, Paris and Beijing have adopted different approaches of international relations and
diplomacy; while France highlights more the power of prestige, the use of economic tools for
political bargaining, and soft power, China emphasizes more on the power of aggressiveness, the
use of both economic and military tools for political bargaining and hard power. This paper aims
at explaining the approaches of France and China on the international system, how this affects
their choices to set their strategic goals and their foreign policy, how these differences altered the
French-Sino “Global Partnership” during Chirac’s presidency, and what is the global impact of
their cooperation. Finally, it will discuss the prospect of the Sino-French relationship.
Historical Background
France was one of the first countries, after the states of northern Europe, to recognize the PRC as
the sole legitimate government of China in 1964 and to develop close ties with the PRC at the
initiative of De Gaulle. On January 1964 the PRC and France established diplomatic relations at
ambassadorial level. Despite their domestic political divergences, Mao Zedong and Charles de
Gaulle had an underlying reason for the development of this relationship: the willingness to be
freed from the bipolar world of the Cold War. China wanted to distant itself from the Soviet
Union and France aspired at setting itself apart from the United States. Therefore, the intentions
of Mao Zedong and Charles de Gaulle for beginning a relationship were not far from the
intentions of Jacques Chirac and Jiang Zemin, but the latter wanted to emancipate the world from
the hegemony of the United States, which was a less achievable aim.
During the 1970s and 1980s, as China went through major changes with Deng Xiaoping’s 4
modernizations, the Sino-French relationship saw a steady development. The PRC admission in
the United Nations in 1971 favored the recognition of the PRC by most of the Western countries
before 1980. France along with other states started to sell small quantities of weapons and
military equipment to the PRC. However, in reaction of the Tiananmen massacre on June 4 th
1989, the European Union decide to suspend its economic and cultural relations with China, and
to implement the arms embargo against China on the behalf of human rights, democracy and
freedom and try to isolate China. France was one of the member states which strongly supported
this decision.
Nevertheless, this reaction seemed ineffective and dangerous and the European Union quickly
understood that a policy of integration towards China would be more successful, therefore the
member states of the European Union decided to adjust their strategy and to move toward the
engagement of China. France was the first country to resume its relations with China in spring
1991. After the resumption of the relations, a real rapprochement began between France and
China at the exception of a setback during the early 1990s following the sale from France of six
Lafayette Frigates and 60 Mirage 2000-5 between 1990 and 1993 to Taiwan.
The reasons of this close partnership were the cooperation on a number of international issues
(the settlement of the Cambodia issue for instance), the reinforcement of China economic
reforms, and the return of the neo-Gaullist party in power in France. On 12 January 1994, Paris
and Beijing signed a communiqué in which France promised the end of the sale of offensive
weapons to Taiwan. This document helped the relationship to get back on track and paved the
way for a closer cooperation. It is in this climate of a new trust that Jacques Chirac was elected at
the presidency of France in 1995. The neo-Gaullist foreign policy of the new elected president
confirmed the intentions of France to build an even more intimate relationship with China.
On May 1997, during Chirac’s visit to China, The French president and its Chinese counterpart
agreed upon the establishment of the Sino-French “Global Partnership”. It was the second time
that China established such a partnership. The first one had been signed with Russia on May
1996, and France thus became the first Western country to set up a comprehensive partnership
with China. The cooperation agreement was based on shared views on a large number of
international issues such as non-proliferation, the Middle East, multipolarity, etc. It settled
regular meetings of Chinese and French officials, and was to promote political, economic and
cultural exchanges.
Following the signature of the 1997 partnership, France stopped supporting the resolution for the
condemnation of China human rights violation in the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
This leading move from Paris was soon followed by other European member states and indicated
the firm decision to unequivocally upgrade its ties with China. In 2002, the re-election of Chirac
and the continuity in its pro-China policy enabled France to prolong the improvement made in
the cooperation with China.
In the years of early 2000s, the relationship was in good shape. In 2003, France, along with
Germany, called for the lift of the ban on arms sale to China which was extremely appreciated by
China. Jacques Chirac argued at the time that the arms embargo on China was obsolete and
inutile given that the European Union had implemented the 1998 ‘code of conduct’ applicable
for the arms sales to all countries. This legally not binding code declares that EU member states
should "exercise special caution and vigilance" to sell arms where "serious violations" of human
rights have been declared by the EU, the Council of Europe or the United Nations. In terms of
cultural relations, the partnership was improved by the cross-cultural years, with the Year of
China in France in 2003-2004 and the Year of France in China in 2004-2005.
The visit of President Hu Jintao in Paris was the occasion to elevate the “Global Partnership” to a
“Strategic Global Partnership” for the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties
between the two parties. The joint statement set the development guidelines for an all-round
strategic partnership between China and France and the key fields where the two nations would
intensify their cooperation. According to the French government, this declaration “enshrines
major advances in many fields, including multilateralism, non-proliferation and human rights”.
In 2007, the Sino-French relations took a new direction with the end of Chirac’s Presidency, and
the election of Nicolas Sarkozy.
Research motivations
An important number of scholars and researches have talked about the unsuccessful cooperation
between China and France, or to be more accurate the unilateral success of China and the lack of
positive outcome for France. A significant amount of literature exists on the issue of lift of the
arms embargo, the human rights dialogue, pointing at France’s policy toward China. But few of
them really succeed of explaining the underlying reasons pushing France to please China. The
economic reasons are admittedly important but not satisfactory to explain this behavior,
especially when a lot of researches have rightly pointed out that the privileged relationship of
Paris with Beijing does not enable the economic advantage of France since Germany enjoys
better economic relations with China for instance. The purpose of this dissertation will be to
determine what are the underlying forces driving France to act so friendly towards China and
push it to the building this long-term partnership with the PRC.
Moreover, few researches have been carried out on France-China relations and one can only find
a handful of scholars in that realm because most of the researches have been performed on
Europe-China relations, with a slight emphasis on the three major EU countries, France,
Germany and Great Britain. Focusing more on the Sino-French relationship and on the specific
question of the “Global Partnership”, my contribution can thus be substantial.
Research Objectives
This research aims at showing the different vision of international relations between France and
China. The opposite views that they have lead them to pursue different priorities in their
domestic as well as in foreign policy. The dissertation will demonstrate that the distinctive
supremacy of certain concerns on each side impacted the favorable outcome of the “Global
Partnership” during Chirac’s presidency (1997-2007). But even more important that the mere
success or failure of the partnership is the implications for the regional Asian security that such a
cooperation can bring.
China being seen a true friend (正友 zheng you) and a responsible stakeholder by France cannot
be without any repercussions. The final objective of this research is to demonstrate the danger for
the regional security, the lack of positive outcome for France and the miscalculated choices to
attain its strategic goals of this inaccurate vision that France cultivated of China.
This aim will be pursued by analyzing French and Chinese approach of national interest and use
of power in international relations, assessing their respective foreign policy and especially
France’s China policy as well as the way it affected the results of the cooperation agreement
from 1997, date of its signature, to 2007, date of the end of Chirac’s presidency. Furthermore,
this dissertation will discuss the implications of such an agreement and based on the findings
conclude on the perspectives for the future Sino-French relations.
France’s and China’s different understanding of the international system is an obstacle for the
full achievement of the stated goals of their cooperation agreement and can endangered the
stability of the Asian region by enabling China to gain leverage.
Definition of terms
 “Global Partnership” or “Comprehensive Partnership” (quanmian huoban guanxi 全
面夥伴關係 in Chinese or partenariat global in French): joint declaration signed on 16
May 1997 in Beijing between Jiang Zemin and Jacques Chirac. The ten pages declaration
codifies the bilateral relations between France and China as well as international
relations. The declaration lists eight sections under which numerous subjects can be
discussed: strengthening a multipolar world, contributing to the reform of the UN,
promoting disarmament, protecting the environment, fighting drugs, criminality and
terrorism, strengthening development aid, supporting multilateral trade and respecting
 “Global Strategic Partnership” or “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”
(quanmian zhanlue huoban guanxi 全 面 戰 略 夥 伴 關 係 in Chinese or partenariat
strategique global in French): Joint declaration signed on 27 January 2004 in Paris
between Hu Jintao and Jacques Chirac during the visit of the Chinese President in France
for the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-French diplomatic relations. The
declaration expresses three domains of priority of the bilateral relations: the
reinforcement of the multilateral system for collective security, the encouragement of the
resolution of global issues, the consolidation of the Sino-French bilateral relations at the
heart of the European Union-China relation.
Theoretical framework
As said earlier, this paper will show that China and France have different perspectives on the
international system which affects the national and strategic goals they choose to pursue as well
as their respective foreign policies. The definition of these goals can be an obstacle for their
cooperation agreement. I will argue here that China understands the international relations in a
neorealist way whereas France has developed a neoliberal approach of it. The main differences
between both theories can be explained by the table 1.
A certain vision of world politics, the international system, and international relations as a whole,
leads countries to pursue certain objectives and affects which set of goals prevails. This set of
goals will in turn influence their foreign policy (see flowchart 1). In some instances the set of
goals of two countries can overlap, thus creating a set of common objectives (see fig.1). In the
case of France and China, they share two major goals that are classified in their top priorities:
balancing the power of the United States and accelerating their economic growth. The
cooperation then becomes the tool of achieving those objectives. However, what is important to
be highlighted is that this common set of goals may not have the same relevance in the eyes of
France and China. China might consider developing its military capabilities more important than
improving its human rights records. Moreover, along with those common goals comes a set of
different goals, which may even oppose China and France on some issues such as human rights,
the Taiwan issue, etc. Finally, when countries find common goals, their view may differ on the
means to achieve them. For China and France this can be seen in their difference of using their
diplomatic instrument, one opts for an aggressive diplomacy to get what it wants, the other for a
soft diplomacy.
What are the roles of the rest of the objectives of France and China which are not part of the
common ones? How do they influence the Sino-French relationship? Does France enjoy a room a
maneuver, an influence on the objectives of China which are contradictory to it owns? Regarding
the different means used by France and China to reach their objectives, how can they
successfully cooperate? I will show that regarding the importance for France to abolish the
hegemony of the United States and boost its economy, President Chirac was willing to close his
eyes on certain issues and accept China aggressive diplomacy in order to reach its objectives.
Table 1: Main differences between neorealism and neoliberalism
State is the most important
Multiple channels of access
between societies
Centrality and necessity of
Low salience of force, power
military power
also measured in other terms.
Strong hierarchy
No hierarchy
Hierarchy of issues
Relative gains: competitive
international system
co-operation = difficult;
Participation to
only if they perceive short-
International organizations
term, material gains
National goals
Nadege Manissier, December 2010
Military security and
economic development
Absolute gains: co-operative
international system
co-operation = more rational
and likely than competition
Helps to overcome obstacles
of interdependence; actors
perceive long-term benefits
Variety of state goals
Flowchart 1: Process of setting common goals
Paris’ vision of
Strategic goals
Foreign policy
 neoliberalis
Beijing’s vision of
Strategic goals
Foreign policy
 neorealism
Nadege Manissier, December 2010
Fig. 1: the delimitation of common goals
Country 1
Country 2
Strategic goals
Strategic goals
Common goals
Nadege Manissier, December 2010
A set of common
goals and policies
defining the
This dissertation will use several methodological approaches: critical analysis, qualitative
research, and interviews.
The thesis will work with primary and secondary sources. The documents provided by
governmental agencies of which the joint declaration of the “Global Partnership” and of the
“Global Strategic Partnership” will be analyzed. The author will also use books, journals and
newspaper articles from France, China, and other countries which can be concerned by the
partnership like the United States to document its research, as well as statistics provided by
EUROSTAT, the official European statistical agency. The scholars on Sino-French relations
being just a handful, I will carry out interviews to gather and analyze their respective opinion on
the question of the outcome of the partnership. Here, it has to be highlighted that the small
number of scholars on Sino-French relationship may affect the variety of point of views showed
in the dissertation.
Literature review
As said just before, the number of influent scholars in the area of Sino-French relations is very
restricted and is limited to these few names: Francoise Mengin, Jean-Pierre Cabestan, Francois
Godement and Valérie Niquet. In this small group of scholars, two of them distinguish
themselves from the two others on the importance that Taiwan takes in their works. Indeed,
Francoise Mengin and Jean-Pierre Cabestan attach an important role of the Taiwan issue on the
bilateral relations of any country with China and especially of France with China. The relation
described or explained thus becomes a triangular relation more than a bilateral one. On the
contrary, for Francois Godement and Valerie Niquet, the issue of Taiwan seems to be placed at
the same level of importance that other issues such as human rights. However, the settlement of
the question of Taiwan, peaceful or not, will have an enormous impact on the Asian region, an
impact that the human rights issue will surely not create.
However, these authors have a high number of common views. First, they all question the
favorable outcome of this partnership with China. Some admittedly criticize more avidly the
global partnership, such as Jean-Pierre Cabestan who qualified the signature of the joint
declaration as “unwise”, while others like Valerie Riquet reassess only the lack of effectiveness
of French governments which did not succeed at gaining the favor of Beijing and let the
partnership be a tool used by the Chinese government to achieve its own goals and not common
ones. The asymmetries between China and France can be seen in the political realm, with France
who has to please China and fulfill the conditions that Beijing set, and in the economic realm,
with the ever-growing trade deficit between both parties.
Second, they insist on the need of the Sino-French relationship to be part of a greater whole.
They underline the desideratum for France to work on the Common Foreign Policy and to give
the European Union a coherent and greater role in Asia. France being one of the three main states
of the EU, they should work together instead of competing against each other, and therefore
create a successful coalition. They also highlight the necessity for France’s China policy to be
encompassed in a larger Asian policy and to revise their strategic goals and positions in Asia if
France wants to be a part in the most dynamic region of the world in the 21st century and limit
the prominent role of the United States.
Finally, it is the very essence and raison d’être which is questioned by the authors with a
reassessment of the reasons which brought China and France to cooperate. Both countries felt
that building a multilateral world and continuing their economic growth was their priority. But
the authors indicate the gap between discourses and actions. Indeed, the top priority of China
seems still to be the maintaining of its political system, when the international community pushes
for more reforms, and the State security.
Arrangement of Chapters
Chapter 1: Introduction
Research motives and objectives
Proposed Methodology
Analytical and theoretical Framework
Scope and Limitations of research
Chapter 2: Background of the French-Sino relations
French-Sino relations under De Gaulle
French-Sino relations under Pompidou and Giscard d’Estaing
French-Sino relations under Mitterrand
French-Sino relations under Chirac
Chapter 3: Theory and Approach
Different approaches of international relations
a. France neoliberal approach
b. China neorealist approach
Common stances on the international system
a. Vision of the World Order
b. Toward a multipolar World
The use of different political tools
a. Hard power vs. soft power
b. Aggressive diplomacy vs. soft diplomacy
c. Military threat vs. economic threat
Chapter 4: Policy and decision-making process
a. Foreign policy decision-making process
b. Chirac’s Foreign Policy
c. Chirac’s China Policy
a. Foreign policy decision-making process
b. China’s Foreign Policy
c. China’s France Policy
Chapter 5: The “Global Partnership”
a. Strategic
b. Economic
c. Political
d. Cultural
a. Strategic
b. Economic
c. Political
d. Cultural
a. Strategic
b. Economic
c. Political
d. Cultural
Chapter 6: Implications and Prospects
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