French firm DCI-DESCO in April won a bid to upgrade Taiwan’s Lafayette frigates, which has strained ties between China and France.
In 1991, France sold Taiwan six Lafayette frigates and in 1992 sold it 60 Mirage 2000 fighter jets. To prevent arms sales between the nations, China negotiated an agreement with France and in 1994 in a joint statement, France promised that there would be no future arms sales to Taiwan.
From China’s point of view, the DCI-DESCO deal constitutes a breach of the agreement, but the French stance is that it is not selling Taiwan new weapons, but instead providing a service in accordance with the original contract.
These weapons have been in service for more than 25 years and they are long overdue for upgrades, but France has been reluctant to provide such services due to the restrictions of the France-China agreement.
Without support, the Ministry of National Defense had no choice but to put several Mirage 2000 fighter jets in storage. France agreeing to upgrade the frigates suggests that there is hope of a future deal to upgrade the fighter jets.
It would be interesting to know why French President Emmanuel Macron, who is seen as a “Gaullist” and who has been friendly to China since taking office, changed his attitude.
“Gaullism” is based on the foreign policy of Charles de Gaulle, the first president of the Fifth French Republic. The core of Gaullism is diplomatic autonomy.
At the start of the Cold War, France was under the US military umbrella, resulting in French colonies seeking independence one after another. The Algerian independence movement in 1958 marked the peak of dissatisfaction with the government and the French public called for constitutional reform.
Soon after taking office, De Gaulle made a series of moves, including conducting nuclear arms tests, breaking away from NATO and establishing diplomatic relations with China.
As a result, any French president who has acted contrary to the US’ international strategy has been labeled a Gaullist. One example is former French president Jacques Chirac, who passed away last year.
Since taking office, Macron has been pushing for a “true European army,” and he has criticized NATO for becoming “brain-dead,” repeatedly acting contrary to US policy. In contrast to his predecessors, Macron has a different attitude toward China.
It is true that France and China have a shared diplomatic interest in opposing unipolar US leadership, but at the same time, there are many disputes between the countries, such as the Chinese government’s market interference in international trade and its promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative in Africa, where it is competing for influence with France, a former colonial power in Africa.
Dissatisfaction with China in Europe as the COVID-19 pandemic has been spreading across the continent has grown in the last few months. All these factors have contributed to France’s decision.
Taiwan might be gaining more bargaining space in the international arms market during President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) second term. For a long time, Taiwan has only been able to purchase weapons from the US, at prices higher than market standards, because no other countries have been willing to risk offending China.
If military cooperation between Taiwan and France can continue to deepen, it might break this monopoly.
Yang Chung-hsin is a researcher of China affairs.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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