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French minister says decoupling from China unrealistic

July 30, 2023

Bruno Le Maire has said cutting all economic ties with China, as some in the West have proposed, is "an illusion." Germany is among the countries seeking to reduce what it sees as a perilous reliance on the Asian giant.

Bruno Le Maire in China
French Finance MInister Bruno Le Maire is in China for high-level economic talksImage: Thomas Peter/Reuters

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Saturday cast doubt on the possibility that Western countries could ever break with China economically in a bid to avoid over-dependence on a single trading partner and mitigate national security risks.

"We are totally opposed to the idea of decoupling. Decoupling is an illusion," Le Maire told reporters at the French Embassy in Beijing during a China visit.

His remarks echo those made by European Commisson President Ursula von der Leyen in April before the European Parliament, where she said decoupling from China was neither viable nor desirable for Europe.

What did Le Maire say?

"There is no possibility of having any kind of decoupling between the American, European and Chinese economies," Le Maire said.

Le Maire said that, rather than decoupling, France wanted "to get a better access and a more balanced access to the Chinese market."

However, he said, France saw virtue in the notion of "de-risking" the trade relationship with China, which he said carried no connotations that China was being seen as dangerous.

"De-risking does not mean that China is a risk," Le Maire said. "De-risking means that we want to be more independent and that we don't want to face any risk in our supply chains if there would be a new crisis, like the COVID one with the total breakdown of some of the value chains."

China on de-risking efforts: 'A false proposition' 

The US, like Germany and the EU, is also adopting de-risking measures with regard to China, though US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, too, said during a visit to Beijing earlier this month that any decoupling of the US and Chinese economies would be "virtually impossible."

China itself has vehemently criticized Western efforts to de-risk, with Premier Li Qiang last month calling the concept a "false proposition."

Le Maire is in China for high-level economic talks. On Monday, he is due to travel to the southern technological hub of Shenzhen to meet with business leaders.

China is France's third-largest trading partner.

tj/wd (AFP, Reuters)