Fifty years of Franco-Chinese relations

Wednesday 20 March 2019: Fifty years of Franco-Chinese relations, lecture by His Excellency Claude Martin, Ambassador of France.

Author of a voluminous work, "Diplomacy is not a gala dinner", which analyzes the political, economic, social and cultural evolution of China from 1964 to the present day, Claude Martin retraces his career since the School of Oriental Languages, the Institute of Political Sciences and the National School of Administration which led him, instead of his military service, to the French Embassy in Beijing in 1964, the year of the recognition of China by General de Gaulle.

Being one of the few members of the mission who spoke Chinese, he served as a “handyman” traveling the country by train and Beijing by bicycle. During this first stay, he was able to observe that a certain opacity reigned everywhere, the cultural revolution being underlying (mistrust of intellectual elites, party executives, bourgeois ...), and bookshops not offering as Mao's works. Despite its lack of diplomatic character, this first experience was for him instructive but frustrating because of the difficulty of conversing with the Chinese without immediately attracting suspicion from the local authorities. He was, however, very impressed by the artistic activity, especially by the revolutionary operas which could be of great beauty. He believed that, if it had been focused on something other than politics, the country's energy could have offered a factor of economic development of undeniable value.

Back in France, Claude Martin joined the Quai d'Orsay to deal with European issues, Europe being his primary vocation. However, far from forgetting China, he continues to visit there frequently and to follow with the greatest interest the events which occur there.

If 1971 was a decisive year marked by President Nixon's visit to Beijing, the mysterious disappearance of Lin Biao (Mao's damned soul during the Cultural Revolution) and China's entry into the United Nations, 1974 deserves a mention. particular. It is indeed the year of the establishment of cultural relations between our two countries and, following the official visit to Paris by Deng Xiaoping, the opportunity to sign some contracts.

Claude Martin then returned to Beijing as Minister-Counselor at the French Embassy from 1978 to 1984. Returning to Paris in 1986, he was appointed Director of Asia-Oceania, a position he held for four years. He nonetheless closely followed Chinese affairs and, in November 1990, he returned as ambassador to Beijing, where he worked to re-establish a relationship of trust with China in a most difficult context (the sale Frigates and Mirages). He returned to Paris in November 1993 to devote himself again to Europe, without forgetting China.

After Mao Zedong's death in 1976, the "war of succession" drove Deng Xiaoping away until 1978, when he returned to business in force to become the ruler of China. For ten years, he will be the architect of the opening of the country. During this period, the economic and cultural boom is considerable: literature, cinema (which will win many prizes in the world), painting with the group "The Stars" founded by Ma Desheng. At the beginning, artists were very influenced by Western art but gradually broke free from it. This is also true in literature where we see writers, such as Wang Zhengqi, A Cheng or Mo Yan who will receive a Nobel Prize in 2012, free themselves from constraints. This effervescence, this artistic and cultural freedom was not coupled with political freedom; also the takeover by the Party from 1986, it led to the events of 1989 and to the repression of the demonstrations on the place Tien'anmen, causing a violent reaction in France, in particular on behalf of the Prime Minister Michel Rocard who wanted to cut off all relations with China. According to Claude Martin, the sanctions demanded were stupid and led for four years to the complete freeze of Franco-Chinese relations, both in the cultural and economic fields. Then contacts gradually resumed and reports gradually normalized. Because even if China is not really a democracy, it is a leading partner, in 2001, entered the World Trade Organization. However, despite the counterparts on human rights demanded by the West and the promises of the Chinese government, the country has not made any reforms and Hu Jintao, president since 2003, was a soft reformer. It is the time of intense corruption but also of economic progress and artistic creations. The Party's yoke seemed less heavy and, alongside a traditional art, a new contemporary art developed. After the departure of hundreds of artists who emigrated in the 1980s, those who remained have exhibition opportunities: "So China?" at the Center Pompidou in 2003, or temporary work abroad. The Western Chinese contemporary art market is launched. But political disagreements remain. The Tibetan problem causes tension between Europe and China. In 2008, the President of the European Union, Nicolas Sarkozy, who hesitated to go to China, because he asked for the rehabilitation of the Dalai Lama and reforms for Tibet, nevertheless attended the opening of the Beijing Olympics. The 2010 World Expo takes place in Shanghai, giving China the opportunity to claim the importance of its culture to the world. In 2013, François Hollande is the first head of state received by the new president Xi Jinping to restore damaged relations. Domestically, Xi Jinping is launching an anti-corruption campaign to restore the Party's virtue, dignity and legitimacy. At the international level, he asks Westerners to assume the intellectual and political differences of his country. We are today in a difficult relationship with China, because its economic power allows it to dictate the rules.

This conference, which took place in front of a large audience including, in addition to our members, representatives of the diplomatic world, Franco-Asian friendships from the Senate, and collectors under the leadership of Galerie Livinec, aroused very keen interest.

It was followed by a friendly drink where the participants, who came in large numbers, were able to make fruitful exchanges in the bright room of the Buddha.


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