Macron in China: What can social media reveal about Sino-European relations? | #TheCube

Macron in China: What can social media reveal about Sino-European relations? | #TheCube
Copyright Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
By Seana Davis
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Macron's China visit: What can social media tell us of Sino-European relations? | #TheCube


Emmanuel Macron has made trade one of the staples of his foreign policy, and his trip to China this week signals his aim for deeper agreements with Beijing amid a shrinking global economy and tariff tensions.

The French president is visiting along with Phil Hogan, the EU trade commissioner, as well as a delegation of 30 businesses.

As China seeks globalisation, what can social media tell us of recent diplomatic relations between Beijing and France?

The Hong Kong protests

Social media feeds often reflect government aims. In China's case, it has been stepping up their efforts to tackle what it calls "Western misunderstanding".

The Global Times, a Chinese state newspaper, has outlined a new policy for Chinese ambassadors to set up Twitter accounts to "interact with international public opinion" in an effort to "lend a voice to the Chinese people's mainstream position."

With this in mind, Chinese diplomatic accounts have been posting violent videos from demonstrations, pointing the finger at protestors. A recent tweet by the Chinese Ambassador to France said that "rioters are sowing violence in Hong Kong".

In early October, EU chief foreign affairs spokesperson Federica Moghreini released a statement urging "restraint, de-escalation, and dialogue" amid the "escalation of violence" in Hong Kong. She said that "fundamental freedoms, including the right of assembly" must be upheld, while also hailing any violence as "unacceptable".

Her statement was reshared by France on its diplomatic account on Twitter. It led to a sharp rebuke by Chinese diplomats on social media, including the Chinese Ambassador to France, who called it "irresponsible".

The Chinese statement went on to criticise a "hypocritical" EU whilst also pointing the finger at France specifically, nothing that China had shown "empathy" towards the nation during its own violent demonstrations.

Hong Kong on one hand, trade on the other

With Hong Kong protestors calling for international support from the likes of Germany and the US, local diplomats have described overseas comments on the demonstrations as akin to "external interference."

But amid a shrinking global economy, Hong Kong diplomats also are reaching out for increased trade opportunities. In early November, the Chinese Ambassador to the UK noted the the announcement of a new diplomatic position, "the first Special Representative of the Chinese Government on European Affairs." Xiaoming cited the new position as a step toward a "deeper China-EU partnership".

As for Macron, he has been calling for a unilateral bloc-agreement with China. The Chinese Premier Xi Jinping last visited Paris in March, when Macron invited both his German counterpart and EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker to attend.

If social media can give an indication, China is preparing to open itself up for wider agreements, having been accused by Washington of having unfair trade policies. In a tweet by the Chinese Mission to the EU, Xi Jinping is quoted as saying that in an era of economic globalisation, "interests and futures of different countries are becoming increasingly intertwined."

On the day of Macron's arrival in Shanghai, China Daily published an op-ed that said "foreign trade is vital to boosting the economy."

"China should further open up its economy to the outside world and increase its interactions with other economies, so as to promote high-quality economic growth," it said.

Macron aims to clinch agreements in a protectionist global economy. If social media provides a clue, perhaps this is also on Beijing's agenda.

Watch the player above as Seana Davis in The Cube explains more.

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