France’s strange decision to join China on global infrastructure projects

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France is about to become the first Western country to establish a joint intergovernmental cooperation mechanism on infrastructure with China.

Paris has announced that it is preparing to join Beijing in the construction seven infrastructure projects around the world. The combined value of these projects is estimated at over US$1.7 billion. The agreement comes following an online meeting between Presidents Emmanuel Macron and Xi Jinping, held on February 16, 2022 as part of the two countries’ Third Market Cooperation Agreement.

According to a statement from China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the seven projects are expected to be located in Africa, Southeast Asia and Central and Eastern Europe, covering infrastructure, energy and protection. of the environment. France and China would jointly finance these programs.

The NDRC acknowledged that France is the first country to establish this type of intergovernmental exchange with China.

Over the past three decades, China has become the largest infrastructure market in the world, largely due to its economic reforms and burgeoning urbanization efforts. However, there are many critical indicators which have permanently tarnished China’s reputation in infrastructure planning and construction.

The problems of Chinese-led projects begin with single-source funding that underpins government-led infrastructure development that is unsustainable. There are also problems with the quality of urban infrastructure projects being short-lived and of very poor construction.

Infrastructure companies face overcapacity issues. Much of the built infrastructure lacks quality and reliability.

China has built more infrastructure than any other country in Africa, and most of them have come under heavy criticism for their poor quality, whether it’s Chinese-built roads, bridges, and highways. At the same time, the low standards of construction practices undertaken by China and the operational management of these projects have contributed to the failure to meet infrastructure needs for a sustainable environment.

The contradictory orientations of France

The past year has seen a reaffirmation by liberal democracies of the importance of a rules-based global order. France’s rapprochement with communist China, given the latter’s dismal record and lack of respect for the international rule of law in this area, has no echo in the free world. It is equally difficult to see how this reinforces shared values ​​through multilateralism or improves capacities for global governance.

By joining Beijing in this intergovernmental collaboration on infrastructure, the Macron administration seems to be sending a counterproductive message.

President Macron has outlined his priorities during his tenure as the rotating president of the European Union (EU). He stressed the need to focus on the rule of law, to reconcile climate ambitions and economic development, among other objectives. More importantly, Macron said “the rule of law is non-negotiable,” reaffirming his administration’s position in this debate.

By contrast, time and again, China’s failure to abide by international law has been a contentious issue. Beijing does not see international legality as carrying normative value. On the contrary, the Chinese Communist Party adopts a functionalist approach linked to its own internal objectives.

An effective rules-based international order requires states to accept the restraining power of law. China claims to recognize the importance of international law and observes it when it suits it. But his blunt cost-benefit approach to legal compliance is ultimately a rejection of the supremacy and power of the law as a restraining force.

This view stems from Beijing’s own conception of the law as an expression of the will of the Chinese Communist Party and nothing more. It further explains why Beijing so easily undermines established norms and institutions that stand in the way of achieving its goals.

States that engage with China and those that see Beijing as a reliable partner in promoting the rules-based international order must understand its ruthless cost-benefit approach and, therefore, how this influences its behavior.

In this context, it is a complex task for Macron to justify his government’s commitment and collaboration with the Chinese government in carrying out infrastructure projects in Africa, Central and Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. . As a liberal democracy representative of the G-7 and among the first republics in the modern world to adopt democratic traditions and values, France is not setting a good example by engaging with China in the aforementioned context.

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Author: Dr. Monika Chansoria

Dr. Monika Chansoria is a senior research fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the JIIA or any other organization with which the author is affiliated. She tweets @MonikaChansoria. Find more articles from Dr. Chansoria here to JAPAN Striker.

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