Dialogue with former French Prime Minister Raffarne: The world needs a real awareness of our common destiny
1. There are “three key factors” to contain the epidemic crisis.
Xiao Lianbing: Dear Mr. Lafarne and Mr. Xu Bo, what do you think of the future of the world plagued by the COVID-19 epidemic?
This global health crisis is very serious, especially compared with the 2008 world financial crisis, multilateralism has obviously slowed down or even regressed. In the face of the virus, I see that every country goes its own way and lacks cooperation. In order to restart international cooperation, I think the law and China should work together. I am sure that establishing a cooperation between Europe and China around vaccine development is very worth looking forward to, even necessary, for either side.
The COVID-19 epidemic will continue for some time, and the only way to relieve people’s tension is to get vaccinated. In addition, we must take into account those countries with fragile medical facilities, and vaccines are extremely important for the lives of people.
In recent years, we have noticed the rapid rise of nationalism and international tensions in many countries around the world. The COVID-19 epidemic highlights the lack of a real awareness of our common destiny around the world.
In order to contain the current world public health crisis, I think that the WHO will determine a clear world health strategy, in-depth cooperation between countries and an international strategy for the joint development of effective vaccines are three key factors.
I think France and China can play an important role in this regard. Our two countries should strengthen cooperation in science and health, consistent with the WHO strategy. When Chirac was the president of France, I was the prime minister of the government, and we cooperated with China in this regard through the Pasteur Institute and the Merrier Pharmaceutical Group. Establishing a balanced cooperation between France and China will help us finally control the pandemic and prepare us for the future response to the global public health crisis.
It is very unfortunate that the pandemic has become the most important event in 2020, and it will have a profound impact on human life today and in the future. I agree with Mr. Lafarlane that in the face of the threat of COVID-19, especially compared with international cooperation during the 2008 world financial crisis, international cooperation under today is far from the height of what the world’s people expect, which the international community should have done from the beginning. I believe that France and China are the two key countries to restart such international cooperation, given the respective capabilities of our two countries. In this way, an enhanced international multilateral cooperation will not only make the post-epidemic world a better place, but also become an important mark on history in 2020.
Xiao Lianbing: What do you think about the prospect of international cooperation?
France and China are the most critical part of international cooperation, and France and China should provide vitality for the resumption of international cooperation. International multilateral cooperation now has a history of 75 years. In the past 75 years, many changes have taken place in Asia, China and Africa, and global governance should reflect such changes. Europe, France and China should work together to establish a multilateralism that reflects the current situation of the world and is conducive to the maintenance of world peace. Unilateralism can only be a dead end
Mr. Raffarlane mentioned a very important issue in today’s international relations, that is, the cooperation between China and France. In 2005, President Chirac launched the Convention for the Protection of Human Cultural Diversity at UNESCO, for which China and France worked side by side. The 2015 Paris Agreement made good cooperation between China and France. Whether it is to protect human cultural diversity or prevent climate change, it is the top priority of the international community today. Now it’s our turn to cooperate internationally in the field of public health. No matter which party initiates such multilateral cooperation, the key is to fully take into account the different concerns of all parties in a spirit of openness.
2.” To understand China, you must have the will to love China and accept differences.
Xiao Lianbing: Mr. Lafarin, Mr. Xu Bo mentioned version 2.0 of Sino-French relations in his new book French Society in Transition. He proposed that in order to establish a kind of “spark of soul collision” among the people of the two countries, we need to find common feelings in the history of the two countries.
You made a special preface to Mr. Xu Bo’s book, quoting what former President Chirac said to you that understanding each other is the key to success. I hope Chinese readers will find another side of French society. May I ask how can the Chinese and French people in the same social transition better improve their understanding of each other?
Xu Bo’s French Society in Transition is a very good book. The issues involved in this book are very important to both societies in France. It must be pointed out that culture is a dominant factor in our relations, not a political, economic and other factors that people have been emphasizing. However, many people don’t realize it. Why is culture so important to us? This is because there is a key point between our two peoples, which is “sensitivity”.
We are two very sensitive peoples, which are deeply rooted in our hearts, minds and ways of survival, which is why sincerity is needed in our relations. Xu Bo said that “spiritual collision spark” is also a kind of “sensitive collision spark”.
This point must be dealt with Chinese people frequently before you can realize it. Similarly, the important role of Xu Bo’s book is to help Chinese readers cross the cultural wall that hinders our communication and let Chinese readers see everything in the French people’s home behind the wall. In Europe, especially in France, due to the complexity of Chinese, many people think that this cultural wall that hinders communication is insurmountable. However, my 50 years of experience in dealing with Chinese people confirms that the opposite is true.
When I traveled in China, I felt very close to the Chinese people, especially when we used non-verbal expressions. For example, at the dinner table, we communicate with gestures and smiles. It is very easy for us to understand each other, because France is two highly sensitive peoples. In Asia or Europe, there are some highly qualified people, but they are not as sensitive as we are.
That’s why culture is an important factor in understanding our two peoples. Therefore, we need to understand Chinese civilization, love and think about the daily life of the Chinese people based on this cultural difference. In this regard, the French know little about China, even our president knew little about China before they took office, but these French leaders knew the United States very well when they were 30 years old, and they knew China until they were 40 years old, and some even reached 50.
We all know that culture is a key factor in how to improve mutual understanding among our people during the social transition period. Chinese culture is extensive and profound, but culture, like “understanding” and “peace”, needs to be learned and cultivated. It will not fall from the sky. Similarly, “respect” and “friendship” also need to be learned and cultivated. The French poet Rene Charles said, “Love is to accept the true face of things.” If you love China, you must have a will to love. Love is to accept the differences of others. There are indeed various things in life that are difficult to explain, which may come from heaven, or earth, or other places you don’t know.
This is life. We must recognize and accept this phenomenon. To understand China, you must have the will to love China and accept the differences in each other’s existence. The French are closely watching this U.S. election. We have two eyes, and one eye to look at the East is half closed. We must open our eyes to the West and the East at the same time. Culture helps us understand each other.
For example, nature is a topic often expressed in Chinese thought, and the Chinese thought of nature is very close to our French thought in this regard. Chinese dual dialectical thoughts, such as heaven and earth, yin and yang, are very modern. The French philosopher François Jén wrote many works for this purpose. There is also a French sociologist, Edgar Moran, whose “complex thinking theory” is well known in France. He wrote the book Method, whose thoughts are very close to those of the Chinese people. His complex sociology and ecology of action are closer to the Chinese than our French Athenistic thinking.
There is a fear of China in the West now. Some people think of the Thucydides trap for this reason, and think that the United States and China are doomed to an inevitable war. There is also a fear of China, fearing that China will become too strong to become threatening. This fear is obviously ignorant of China’s culture of peace. I believe that China has all intellectual, spiritual and cultural means to control this Western fear of China, because culture is China’s most peaceful language.
In this regard, the work done by Xu Bo is very important, and we must promote cultural understanding between the two countries. We must do some in-depth research on things and understand the two peoples through tourism and visits to cultural and natural heritage. Friendship can only be given to those who deserve it. Friendship also needs care. Chirac said that “respect is a job” and we need to do something that makes people feel respectful, rather than just adopting a simple external communication strategy.
Mr. Raffarlane pointed out that cultural factors are an important feature of Sino-French relations, and I fully agree. It is very appropriate for him to describe it with “sensitivity”. Cultural estrangement is indeed a terrible wall, which hinders a better understanding between the people of our two countries. I want to emphasize the need to study a country in depth, not just like sightseeing.
I think there should be a “spark of soul collision” between the Chinese and French peoples, because the history of our two countries is closely linked. French priest Tan Weidao discovered giant pandas in Sichuan in 1869. French priest De Rijin participated in the identification of “Beijing ape-man”, so that the world could better understand the origin of Chinese civilization. In 1937, the French priest Rao Jiaju established a “refugee area” in Shanghai occupied by Japan, which hosted more than 300,000 people.
In addition, French culture influenced Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping’s group of new Chinese leaders who went to France to study hard and thriftly. In July 1920, a group of young Chinese people gathered in the small city of Montalgi in central France. They agreed that the best way to save lives was to establish a revolutionary political party, the Communist Party of China, and Cai Hesen was the leader of the young man. 2021 marks the centennial of the establishment of the University of China and France, and the University of China and France is also a good story for cultural exchanges between China and France.” The spark of mind collision is also a kind of spark of sensitivity collision.
3.” Without vision, without vision, there is no leader.”
Xiao Lianbing: November 9 this year marks the 50th anniversary of General de Gaulle’s death. He opened the door to the Western world to New China. What do you think of General de Gaulle’s diplomatic legacy and his leadership ideas?
General de Gaulle’s diplomatic thought has two basic elements: national independence and dialogue between countries. In 1940, when he flew to London alone to establish a “free France”, he wanted to resist the German invasion of France and prevent France from becoming a German province. During the U.S. military landings in Normandy, he opposed President Roosevelt in order to prevent France from becoming a province of the United States. General de Gaulle first fought tirelessly with the Germans, and then he had been tense with the British and Americans to ensure independence. I regret to see that in recent years, this principle of General de Gaulle has been somewhat ignored. For example, the sanctions policies of Europe and France against Russia are too affected by the United States and the EU’s own sovereign independence is insufficient. I am now pleased to see President von der Leyen of the European Commission return to the policy of sovereign independence in Europe.
General de Gaulle said independence is not to self-isolation, but rather it is open to the world. Today, the “long-arm jurisdiction” of American law is imposing on French enterprises, threatening France’s independence. If these laws are only directed at American enterprises, we are willing to accept it, but they must not be imposed on French enterprises. This is the principle of de Gaulleism.
Not long ago, we organized a “General de Gaulle Leadership” webinar with the Central European International Business School and the General de Gaulle Foundation, which was very successful. The essence of General de Gaulle’s leadership is that he has a clear vision of France, which is based first on eternal France and then a vision of the future of France. From this point of view, we can discuss with China, because China also has a vision for the future, and we can have a dialogue on the vision, especially on the future of the earth, a major matter in our current strategy. Our common concern about the fate of the earth enables us to establish a kind of fraternity, which is the core of the Paris Agreement. Only when we have a common vision of the world can global governance make progress.
Without vision, without vision, there is no leader, which is also the characteristic of Chinese culture. Today, China is formulating the 14th five-year plan for national economic and social development. One cannot deny that China is a country with a vision for the future. During the time of General de Gaulle, this vision was embodied in the “National Planning Agency” created by General de Gaulle himself, which means that the spirit of de Gaulle is equally relevant today.
General de Gaulle is admirable. He is the first leader of a Western power to recognize New China. For General de Gaulle, recognizing New China is France’s “acceptance” of the existence of the objective world. I think General de Gaulle’s move to take the lead in recognizing the new China in the Western world also opens the door to the Western world for the Chinese. General de Gaulle’s vision is amazing. At a press conference recognizing New China, he not only praised the great Chinese civilization, but even predicted that China would become a world power again in the 21st century. I believe that the spirit of de Gaulle is crucial to the establishment of a post-epidemic world order today. China and France have common interests to build a multipolar world. Today, we should pay more attention to the two elements of “independence” and “dialogue” in de Gaulle’s diplomatic thought. In the face of the unilateralism of the United States, especially the “long-arm jurisdiction” of the United States, which increasingly harms the interests of French and Chinese enterprises, we cannot stand idly by.
On October 10, at the Central American Langfang Pavilion, visitors watched the exhibition at the first exhibition of French painter, printmaker and designer Mark Chagall in China. Xinhua News Agency
On February 2, in Paris, France, the actors of the Chinese National Theatre performed Walker Without Borders. Xinhua News Agency
4. China and France “the differences are real and the commonality is strong”
Xiao Lianbing: Mr. Lafarlane, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, you have won the Medal of Friendship of the Chinese government, which is the highest recognition of the Chinese government for your friendship with the Chinese people. Can you talk about your feelings?
I am very honored to have the medals awarded to me by the Chinese government. This honor also reflects double recognition. In other words, it is not only the Chinese government’s recognition of the French mission in China, but also the recognition of French people like me who serve the interests of France in China. I am very happy that my work is also appreciated by the French government, especially the Presidents of the Republic, starting from Chirac, then Sarkozy, then Hollande, and now Macron, who have affirmed my work. For the future, after 50 years of dealing with the Chinese people, I must remain modest in the face of the broad and profound Chinese culture.
There is a diplomat in France named Paul Claudel who has lived in China for a long time. When he returns to France, when people ask him how to view the Chinese, he often answers: “Oh, your question embarrassed me.” In my opinion, the Franco-Chinese relationship is a very unique relationship. I don’t know if there is such a special relationship between other countries in the world. In short, the differences between our two countries are real and commonal, which must be clearly pointed out, but differences cannot exclude our commonalities, and commonalities will not become irrelevant because of differences. Indeed, our political system is not based on the same principles. In the past, some Western experts often mistakenly believed that China would change its political system after market liberalization, but today’s China has made it clear that it is a specific political system.
China is a socialist country with Chinese characteristics. That is to say, China’s system takes full account of its special cultural traditions, geographical environment and population. We should not expect China to become a country like Europe or the United States tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. The differences in our system also depend on other factors, such as the individual’s position in society, groups, groups and families. These are very important issues that we must face them. Such a debate actually involves a question of social life priorities, that is, is it important individually or collectively? Let me take face recognition as an example. It is essentially a question of the individual’s position in society, that is, is freedom more important than the safety of human life? The terrorist attack in Nice, France, changed the view of the problem. They believed that the tragedy could have been avoided if the city of Nice had installed camera probes on the street at that time, because terrorists had stepped on the terrorist attack site many times before launching the terrorist attack. The question of which is more important, freedom and security is also a very old debate. Let’s not be afraid of it. We need to regulate such a debate in the context of politics and conscience. We can overcome such a debate, just as General de Gaulle overcame the differences between France and the Soviet Union, thus safeguarding our common interests and our commonality.
5. Curbing China’s economic growth is “an anti-world attitude”
Today, there are two very important world issues waiting for our two countries: first, global governance. We all agree that only multilateralism can save world peace. The French people are very grateful to the Chinese people for their support for the Paris Agreement, which could not have been without China’s participation. This move also highlights our common interests. Second, the environment-friendly quality economic growth. China is the engine of global economic growth, and so is it in the post-epidemic era. We have some debates about market issues, such as China’s direct investment in Europe and the reciprocity of European and Chinese enterprises. It is normal for Europe and China to defend their respective interests, but it is in the interests of all of us to share the vitality of China’s economic growth. The attitude of the U.S. government to curb China’s economic growth is an anti-China attitude and fundamentally an anti-world attitude, because China is the engine of world economic growth today. In conclusion, global governance and market growth are the two main commonalities in our relations. We should know that the unique relationship between law does not exist between any other country in the world, and we must protect and cultivate it for this purpose.
Therefore, the commonalities between France and China force us to consider long-term cooperation, rather than daily case-based or opportunistic cooperation. We should resist any short-term pressure to ensure the long-term nature of this cooperation in the organizational structure. This is beneficial to both our countries and the world, so that we can tell the world that although we are different, the differences between France and China do not prevent the two countries from playing an important role in the world. This is the message that our legal-Chinese relationship wants to send to the world, that is, to learn how to work with a partner different from ourselves in mutual trust and recognize such differences. I think French-Chinese relations should in a sense become a “laboratory” for world peace. In particular, I believe that the civilization, complementarity and other elements of our two countries contribute to the success of our cause. It is true that we have differences, but our two countries also have very close sensitivities, which makes us have enough ability to have mutual trust, which is the most fundamental value concept in international relations.
Mr. Raffarin answered almost all the questions. The judgment on the particularity of Sino-French relations is very convincing. “Real differences” and “strong commonality” are very vivid descriptions. You know, this difference between China and France comes from our different cultures and lifestyles, just like the Chinese use chopsticks for eating and the French using knives and forks. It comes from various factors in our whole lifestyle, and there is no good or bad. There is a strong “common property” between our two countries, which is the common wealth of China and France. We should make good use of it and protect it.