GUEST OF HONOR: Chinese President Xi Jinping holds a welcoming ceremony for visiting French President Francois Hollande in Beijing on April 25, 2013 (SHENG JIAPENG)
The year 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of official Sino-French relations. On January 27, 1964, Beijing and Paris announced the start of their diplomatic relationship. Described by some as a "diplomatic nuclear explosion," the event came as a shock to the international community.
The joint communiqué establishing diplomatic ties between China and France was unusually brief—just 45 Chinese characters long—but the reaction from around the world was grave.
Shortly after the announcement, U.S.-based Time magazine commented on the global significance of the event: "As a nation, France has seemed to be dying all through the 20th century … Yet last week the impossible had apparently come true, and France was once more a mover and shaker in world affairs ... To cap his nation's re-emergence as a world power, [French President Charles] De Gaulle recognized the communist regime in Beijing as the government of China, brushing aside protests from Washington that the move would seriously damage U.S. policy in Asia."
In the geopolitical context of the 1960s, Paris' decision to establish diplomatic ties with Beijing illustrated the keen judgment of De Gaulle toward China, cementing his legacy as a visionary with an ability to discern fundamental historical trends. The far-sighted French politician said that China would play an important role in resolving a host of difficult problems facing Asia and the world.
Moreover, the independent foreign policy that De Gaulle endowed to France was an important factor contributing to the establishment of Sino-French relationship while not succumbing to the U.S. pressure. In 1965, De Gaulle proclaimed that "the United States is the greatest danger in the world today to peace."
In France's last presidential election campaign, the then President Nicolas Sarkozy's team criticized rival Francois Hollande for never having visited China. Hollande asserted that he would visit China as soon as possible if elected, and went on to keep his promise. In April 2013, as France's new president, Hollande successfully completed his first China trip. He was also the first major Western leader to be received in Beijing by China's new leadership.
France can also lay claim to at least two other "firsts" in Sino-Western relations besides being the first major Western country to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China: Then Chinese Ambassador to Paris Kong Quan was the first foreign ambassador President Hollande met after his election in May 2012 and Hollande was the first state head of a major Western country to make a congratulatory call to Chinese President Xi Jinping after Xi was elected in March 2013.
These firsts not only show the traditional friendship between China and France as well as the strategic insight of France but also the importance Hollande attaches to Sino-French relations and the healthy development of the current bilateral relationship.