Political relations

In 2014, France and China commemorated the 50ᵗʰ anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The French-Chinese relationship, which was termed a “full partnership” in the Joint Statement of 16 May 1997, rose to the level of a “comprehensive strategic partnership” in 2004. The French-Chinese Partnership, which is confirmed at each high-level bilateral meeting, is based on the belief that a dialogue of confidence with China is likely to further the country’s change towards a more sustainable development model founded on the rule of law and which will help foster peace and prosperity at international level.

A cooperation plan adopted on the occasion of the Chinese President’s visit to France in March 2014 set the major operational guidelines for the French-Chinese partnership. The French-Chinese relationship is developing in three priority areas: strengthen political dialogue, work to rebalance economic relations in a spirit of reciprocity and encourage greater exchanges between civil societies, in particular between young people from the two countries.

The comprehensive strategic partnership between France and China is fuelled by an intense series of high-level bilateral visits. The Heads of State meet on a regular basis, during State visits, official visits or on the sidelines of major international summits.

On the French side, the President of the French Republic made two State visits to China, in April 2013 and November 2015. On that occasion, the adoption on 2 November 2015 of a joint Presidential statement on climate change gave decisive impetus to negotiations on an ambitious and legally binding agreement at the Paris Climate Conference (COP21). The French President visited China for the G20 Hangzhou Summit in September 2016 and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping for a working dinner on the sidelines. The French Prime Minister, Mr Manuel Valls, visited in January 2015, while Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault, made two visits in that capacity, on 16 May 2016 and from 29 October-1 November 2016. During his visit to China from 21 to 23 February 2017, the French Prime Minister, Mr Bernard Cazeneuve, met in Bejing with the Chinese President, Prime Minister and President of the National People’s Congress, and also travelled to Wuhan where he visited the Franco-Chinese ecocité project and the French-designed P4 laboratory.

On the Chinese side, the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, made a State visit to France in March 2014 and an official visit in November 2015, on the margins of the Paris Climate Conference. The Chinese Prime Minister visited France from 29 June to 2 July 2015. A joint statement on civil nuclear energy cooperation and a joint statement on partnerships in third markets were adopted on this occasion. The Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Mr Zhang Dejiang, visited France from 24-27 September 2016, for the interparliamentary France-China Grand Commission. He met with the Presidents of the French National Assembly and Senate, and was received by the President of the Republic and Prime Minister. The 24ᵗʰ France-China Joint Economic and Trade Committee session, co-chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Mr Ayrault, and the Minister of the Economy and Finance, Mr Sapin, on the French side, and by the Minister of Commerce, Mr Gao Hucheng, on the Chinese side, took place in Paris on 3 October 2016.

France’s partnership with China is structured by a number of mechanisms for dialogue. The latest session of the France-China Strategic Dialogue (created in 2001) took place in Paris in March 2016. The fourth session of the High-Level Economic and Financial Dialogue (created in 2013) took place in Paris on 14 November 2016, during the visit to France of the Chinese Vice Premier, Mr Ma Kai. The High-level People-to-People Dialogue decided during President Xi Jinping’s State visit was launched on 18 September 2014 on the occasion of the visit to France by Ms Liu Yandong, China’s Vice Premier with responsibility for education, health, sport and culture. The Dialogue’s second session took place in Beijing in May 2015, and the third in Paris on 30 June 2016.

The intensity of the political dialogue between the two countries is reflected in the coordination on key international and global issues, such as climate change, global economic, financial and monetary governance, and regional crises. Such coordination enables the two countries to make use of their points of convergence in the major international forums and to deepen discussions of points on which they diverge.

Economic relations

The economic partnership between France and China helps to develop cross-investments and deepen structuring industrial cooperation, particularly in the aviation and civil nuclear energy sectors, in which real partnerships have been developed. This cooperation was conducted based on the principles of reciprocity and mutual benefit. As regards aviation, the renewal in 2014 of the agreement on the Airbus assembly line in Tianjin and the signing in 2015 of the agreement on the opening of an A330 completion and delivery centre have been important developments. The French-Chinese relationship is developing also in other promising areas like the environment and sustainable development, agrifood, health and financial services.

Following a sharp increase in 2015 (up 9.3% to €64.5 billion), economic and commercial exchanges have dropped by 4.2% in 2016 and remain highly unbalanced: China accounts for our largest bilateral trade deficit, ahead of Germany (€30.4 billion in 2016). China is France’s eighth-largest customer, with a market share in China of 1.6% in 2016 compared with around 5.5% for Germany, 1.2% for the United Kingdom and 1% for Italy (Chinese data). China is also our second largest supplier (ahead of the United States and the United Kingdom) and has a 9% market share in France. Our imports from China consist primarily of computer, electronic and optical goods (30%) and textile and leather goods (23%).

This situation should not cause us to lose sight of the many successes scored by French businesses in China and of development prospects in new economic cooperation sectors including the environment and sustainable development and the financial and agrifood sectors. Our economic and commercial presence in China is supported by around 1,600 French businesses. Those good performances help rebalance bilateral economic and trade relations and could be boosted by a greater opening up of China, particularly as regards market access (including public procurement) and the protection of intellectual property, for which issues we expect greater reciprocity.

The “major contracts” continue to hold a significant place in our bilateral trade relations, as shown by the successes of Airbus, Airbus Helicopters, and AREVA and EDF in the civil nuclear energy sector. French-Chinese cooperation in the nuclear field is the illustration of a long-term industrial partnership successfully forged by France and China. This partnership was further strengthened in 2010 by the Heads of State’s decision to set up a full partnership covering all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle and by the adoption of a joint statement on civil nuclear energy cooperation in 2015. More progress was made in 2016, with the confirmation of the Hinkley Point C project. The signature of a framework agreement for industrial and commercial cooperation between Areva and CNNC on 21 February 2017, during a visit to China by the French Prime Minister, reresented an important step in this regard. For over 20 years, French industry (AREVA, Alstom, EDF) has played a major part in building civil nuclear power plants in China (Daya Bay and Ling Ao NPPs). The construction of two EPR power plants in Taishan has helped strengthen this partnership over the long term. Our long-standing cooperation in this area rests on the excellence of France’s nuclear power industry, both in terms of performance and the security of nuclear facilities. Nuclear safety is one of the pillars of this cooperation.

Investment by French businesses in China include setting up joint ventures. Many French businesses have embarked on such partnerships, like Alstom, Michelin, Veolia, Citroën and Lafarge. Investment by French businesses in China is therefore an increasingly large component of our economic relationship.

Chinese investments in France are increasing. They account today for a stock of around €5 billion (including Hong Kong) and employ almost 45,000 people. France wishes to promote and support the development of Chinese investments in our country provided that they create growth and jobs.

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation

Scientific and technological cooperation

Scientific and technological cooperation under the intergovernmental agreement of 21 October 1978 currently focuses on several priority areas determined in May 2011 at the 13ᵗʰ Joint French-Chinese Commission on Scientific and Technological Cooperation, including sustainable development, biodiversity and water management, energy and life sciences.

This cooperation is also characterized by a cooperation agreement on preventing and combating emerging infectious diseases signed by the French and Chinese governments in 2004. The Institut Pasteur of Shanghai (IPS), which was launched in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was inaugurated on that occasion. The IPS, together with the Sino-French Laboratory in Computer Science, Automation and Applied Mathematics (LIAMA) in Beijing which was set up by a partnership between the Chinese Academy of Sciences and INRIA, constitute models of research excellence. Over 3,000 researchers from the two countries and from 600 research units are currently cooperating within some 60 French-Chinese public research structures. Under this agreement, the P4 laboratory in Wuhan received accreditation in January 2017.

Cultural and artistic cooperation

In the field of artistic and cultural exchanges, the organization of major multidisciplinary, high-profile annual cultural events helps to deepen mutual understanding and provide a renewed image of France based not only on culture and the arts, but also on modernity and technology. The Croisements artistic festival has become the largest foreign festival in China. The 11ᵗʰ edition in 2016 involved almost 50 events in 30 major Chinese cities, and reached 24.13 million spectators.

The French President’s State visit to China in November 2015 provided the opportunity to announce the opening of temporary exhibition spaces in Shanghai by the Pompidou Centre.

In 2015, China was the leading purchaser of French transfer rights. In 2017, the French National Library is expecting to launch the France-China digital portal.

University and language cooperation

In the academic field, an extensive programme of French government grants such as the “France Excellence programme,” the establishment in partnership of higher education institutions of excellence, for example with the École Centrale of Beijing graduate school and the Sino-European Institute of Aviation Engineering (SIAE) in Tianjin, and the signing of new academic partnerships, should help boost higher education exchanges between the two countries in the coming years. In the space of ten years, the number of Chinese students in France increased ten-fold. In 2015-2016, 28,043 Chinese students were enrolled in a French higher education institution. Chinese students are thus the second largest foreign student group in France. France is the first European country and the tenth country of origin for foreign students in China with over 10,000 students in China in 2015.

Language cooperation is seeing a rise in the number of students of French and Chinese, which reflects the desire shared by our two countries to learn the language and culture of the other. In 2015, some 100,000 secondary school students were studying Mandarin Chinese. Chinese is the fifth most widely taught language in France. Likewise, the number of students of French in China has increased sharply, especially at universities.

Environmental and sustainable development cooperation

French cooperation in China is based on three priorities: combating climate change, sustainable urban development, and water-related issues.

The French Development Agency (AFD) has been operating in China since 2004 in the framework of a partnership with China’s Ministry of Finance and National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). The AFD’s action is intended to accompany China’s transition to a low-carbon and environment-friendly economy, and to promote the expertise and know-how of French actors in the framework of partnerships. Since 2004, 24 projects have been implemented for a gross amount of cumulative commitments of nearly €1.2 billion (sovereign loans on market terms since 2011). New projects are currently being implemented in the Guangxi, Heilongjiang and Fujian provinces. In 2016, four projects were approved by AFD institutions, representing a total of €150 million.

Decentralized cooperation

Since the first Meeting on French-Chinese Decentralized Cooperation in Wuhan in 2005, France and China have opted to deepen the ties forged between their local governments, notably as regards the introduction of clean and sustainable urban policies suited to new lifestyles.

Currently, 59 French local governments are operating in China, acting as umbrellas for 147 projects implemented with 64 partner Chinese local governments in key regional development sectors, including universities, research and the economy. 16 French local governments have opened a representation in China. Decentralized cooperation with China is gradually developing and boosting the economic development of our local governments, as well as cultural and university cooperation between France and China. The Fifth Meeting on French-Chinese Decentralized Cooperation was held in Chengdu from 28-30 October 2016. It was opened by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Updated: 2 March 2017