The British government last month announced a ban on the Chinese telecoms company Huawei supplying new 5G equipment, stirring the wrath of Beijing and threats of retaliation. Ten days earlier, France made a similar move with barely a squeak of Chinese protest. France’s policy was floated by the head of its cyber security agency in a newspaper interview. It was not presented as a ban, but the effect is the same. French telecoms networks will be free of all Huawei gear by 2028 at the latest, one year after Britain.
The 5G decision is typical of the low profile that France, under President Emmanuel Macron, has adopted on China. The response of Paris to human rights abuses against Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, a sweeping new security law in Hong Kong and, bar a spiky comment in a Financial Times interview in April, China’s opaque handling of Covid-19, has been muted. That is odd, because on foreign policy issues, Mr Macron does not usually do low profile.
He enjoys his status as the EU’s pre-eminent strategic thinker. For a time, he saw himself as the EU leader best placed to deal with US President Donald Trump. He likes to expound on France’s role as a “balancing power”. Sometimes he sounds more like a provocative policy wonk than a head of state, such as when he declared