Monday, November 26, 2007

Novel Harmonies

Nicolas Sarkozy placed his visit to China under the sign of "harmony," echoing one of the Chinese government's own themes. But he introduced a couple of interesting dissidences into his chord progression before returning to the principal theme, the signing of more than 20 billion euros worth of contracts. He told his Chinese hosts that, in his opinion, "a great country ought to have a strong currency." He might have found a better way to put it. This formulation seemed to hark back to the old French delusion that a country's exchange rate is something like an index of comparative virility. As Sarkozy well knows, however, France would be in a somewhat better position now if its currency were weaker, so that Airbus wouldn't have to contemplate outsourcing to the dollar zone. Still, the Chinese took the point well enough: "I understand that there is a problem," said Hu Jintao, "but it's not simple for us."

Sarko was equally blunt about Chinese pollution: "Chinese growth should not and cannot come at the price of a degradation of the global environment, exhaustion of natural resources, and accelerated warming of the planet." And one of the contracts signed in China was with Natixis, which will supply equipment to reduce CO2 emissions. Of course that contract was for only a few million euros, compared with the 12 billion to Airbus for aircraft that will add to emissions, but the symbolism is noteworthy. And the 8 billion to Areva for nuclear technology may be regarded as symbolic in its own right.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Art - The Chinese leadership's ongoing judgments of how seriously to take Sarkozy will be an important part of his goal of establishing a stronger French influence in world affairs. The Chinese purchase of Airbus planes represents a lot of money but it was to be expected: Governments and airlines tend to balance Boeing and Airbus purchases in the medium term for two reasons. First, it's in the buyer's interest to maintain competition between the only two major sellers. (The oil-rich governments do the same, as do savvy governments such as Singapore.) Second, buying French is also a good way to make a willing permanent partner out of Sarkozy, whose influence can matter in European-Western relations with China in general. (My wife, who is Chinese from Beijing, is currently escorting a group of American journalists in Beijing and Shanghai. (David Brooks' NYT column yesterday was written from Beijing - his first trip to China. It demonstrated a rather sympathetic attitude toward Chinese problems rather than emphasizing authoritarian rule.)