Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2023.05.12

French leader adds unneeded tension to the 'One China' policy

President Macron raises eyebrows with his comments on Taiwan-China relations

the Japan Times on April 14th, 2023

China Europe

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met last week at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.

Beijing denounced the meeting as a provocative violation of the “One China” policy. Taipei responded with “Neither Taiwan nor its friends in the U.S. will back down,” and Washington played it down as something neither uncommon nor official.

My initial observations were that each of the three players, the U.S., China and Taiwan, seem to have acted rationally in a familiar chord with three different tones.

The United States, reaffirming its support for Taiwan, tried to show that it would not give in to China’s unreasonable threats.

Taiwan, taking a “quality over quantity” approach, tried to make it appear as if its relations with Washington and other Western governments are as close to official diplomatic relations as is possible given the circumstances.

China, contrary to its “wolf-warrior” diplomacy practices, did not overtly overreact at first, probably because there was neither a Communist Party Congress nor did the U.S. House speaker visit the island of Taiwan. Yet Beijing later conducted military drills in the waters surrounding Taiwan, as it did last summer, perhaps due to growing criticism within the Communist Party about the weak stance toward the U.S.

In Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told journalists that Tokyo is “watching the Tsai-McCarthy meeting with great interest, including subsequent developments.” When asked about China’s opposition, he said, Japan will “convey directly and firmly to the Chinese side the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

When these countries played this not-so-perfect but familiar chord, France took an initiative that could disrupt this precarious predicament.

CNN reported that French President Emmanuel Macron “finds himself grappling with international blowback from last week’s friendly visit to China — and in particular from comments that have made him rather unpopular both in Washington, D.C., and with some of his allies in Europe.”

What did Macron say about Taiwan? Since my French is virtually nonexistent, I asked the popular AI chatbot ChatGPT for a transcript of Macron’s remarks in English. It responded with: “I’m sorry, but as an AI language model, I do not have access to real-time news or media. However, to the best of my knowledge, French President Macron has not made any recent comments on Taiwan.”

ChatGPT was wrong, he did comment on the Taiwan situation. Macron made the following remarks after his return from the three-day trip to China. He said that France should not get caught up in an escalation between the U.S. and China; being a U.S. ally does not mean being a “vassal”; it doesn’t mean that we don’t have the right to think for ourselves; that nothing had changed in France’s support for the “status quo” in Taiwan; that Paris supports the “One China” policy and the search for a peaceful resolution to the situation.

These remarks are problematic and should not be ignored. Does the French president consider such U.S. allies as Japan or the Philippines “vassals” that have no right to think for themselves and are caught up between the U.S. and China? Even former U.S. President Donald Trump has reportedly accused Macron of cozying up to China. Isn’t it a shame on France?

Criticism is growing against Macron in Europe and some analysts, as the BBC reported, say Macron’s comments suggest that “The U.S. is to blame as much as China for the rising tensions over Taiwan and make it harder for the EU to take a harder line with Beijing.” It’s no wonder similar voices are growing louder in Tokyo as well.

Although many mainstream media outlets in Japan have remained silent over the controversy, the Sankei Shimbun took issue with Macron. A recent editorial criticized him, saying, “It is hard to believe that this is coming from the leader of France, a leading member of the Group of Seven and a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.”

The Sankei continued, noting that “Mr. Macron’s remarks are an obstacle to the efforts of the international community and the people of Taiwan to pursue peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and to protect Taiwan’s freedom and democracy. We hope he will reflect on his foolish remarks and retract them.”

Now back to the question I put before the AI chatbot. I tried out ChatGPT following a recommendation by my son-in-law. Having learned that ChatGPT can be a game-changer, I started to harbor “wicked” thoughts of having ChatGPT help me write this commentary. So, I asked it, “How do you evaluate Macron’s remarks on Taiwan?”

Its response was classic:

As an AI language model, I do not have personal opinions or evaluations on political statements made by world leaders. However, I can provide an objective interpretation.

  • Firstly, Macron appears to be pragmatic in navigating the complex relationship between the two superpowers.
  • Secondly, Macron’s comments could be interpreted as a statement of French independence and autonomy in foreign policy as well as sovereignty and its own decision-making processes.
  • Thirdly, Macron’s ‘status quo’ statement appears to be consistent with France’s longstanding position on the issue.
  • Lastly, Macron’s support for a peaceful resolution is a recognition of the need to avoid any escalation of tensions and to seek a diplomatic solution to any conflicts that may arise.

Close, but no cigar. Now I remember what my daughter’s husband told me: “ChatGPT is a better talker at the moment. Other AI software, when it gets into trouble, says ‘sorry’ outright, but ChatGPT tries to get out of it with some kind of appropriate excuse. Sometimes it even lies … .”

So at least for the time being, I’ll have to write my entire essay all by myself. That said, in five to 10 years from now, you will never know what AI can do. Perhaps, I may stop writing commentaries by then.