De Gaulle's visionary decision
Updated: 2014-01-29 07:49
By Shen Wei (China Daily)
Establishing diplomatic relations with China signaled France's reemergence and the awakening of the 'sleeping giant'
Fifty years ago, amid the tensions of the Cold War, the move by then-French president Charles de Gaulle to establish a diplomatic relationship with China was a brave and, to some observers, surprising move. Being the first major power in the West to recognize and establish ambassadorial level diplomatic relations has given France a special position in China's foreign policy. However, despite this, the bilateral relationship has still experienced downs as well as ups over the past five decades. The anniversary provides both countries with the opportunity to reflect on and renew their relations in a changing global order.
Although France formally allied with the United States during the Cold War, de Gaulle did not wish to be identified with any camp, and wanted to build a "regular relationship" with China. He recognized the truth of Napoleon Bonaparte's observation that China was a "sleeping giant" and that "when she awakes, the whole world will tremble".
De Gaulle foresaw that due to its size, civilization and population, China was destined to be a global player that would have transformative power in the future. And of course, he also had his own geopolitical reason for making France the first major Western power to establish ambassadorial diplomatic relations with China. It symbolized France's comeback in Asia and its return to the global stage as an important actor after World War II, part of de Gaulle's "politics of grandeur".
Looking back, de Gaulle's forecast of China's future renaissance was truly visionary. In 1964, France became the first country to start military exchanges with China, and it initiated a strategic partnership and dialogue. Bilateral trade, which was around $100 million in 1964, is now worth more than $52 billion. Around 1,400 French firms are operating in China with a total of 4,419 investment projects worth more than $12 billion. The French investment in China is characterized by large bilateral contracts, especially in the aviation and nuclear fields.
And with around 38,000 Chinese students in France, China is edging to overtake Morocco as the largest source of international students, and France is the No 1 tourist destination in Europe for Chinese students.
The Golden Jubilee of Sino-France Relations should remind us of the important historical significance of this bilateral relationship. The 38,000 students at Alliance Francaise and 10,000 secondary and university students studying French in China and 32,000 French secondary school students studying Chinese (8 times the number in 2001) once again confirm the mutual interests among the younger population in both countries, and promise a bright future for bilateral ties.