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China looking to learn from France about Africa

French President Francois Hollande and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Elysee Palace in Paris, 30 June 2015
French President Francois Hollande and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Elysee Palace in Paris, 30 June 2015 Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

Trade is the focus of a three-day visit to France that Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang started on Tuesday. Beyond deals with French companies, China and France are expected to sign an agreement on joint infrastructure projects in Asia and Africa.

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“China is becoming aware that the situation is more complicated than it initially seemed in Africa, and it is realising that it has a lot to learn from countries that have experience on the continent,” Alice Ekman, of the French Institute for Foreign Relations (IFRI), told RFI.

China has invested heavily in Africa on energy and infrastructure projects, and faces issues of security of its employees and investments.

Even more importantly, it has an image problem.

“In some countries China is facing criticism of not respecting the interests of the local population or local economic actors," said Ekman.

France, with its colonial legacy in West Africa, might provide some insight.

Climate talks

Higher on the agenda, though, is the environment, and China delivered on Tuesday announcing the country’s emissions targets in a statement soon after Li met with French President Francois Hollande.

The country will try to curb its carbon emissions before 2030 by cutting CO2 by 60 to 65 per cent from 2005 levels. The pledge also involves increasing the amount of non-fossil fuels in its energy mix to 20 per cent.

France is hoping that a global emissions cutting deal can be agreed on at the UN climate summit in Paris at the end of the year.

China, as the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, could encourage other developing countries.

Ekman says the announcement in Paris is symbolic, but does not mean that China will follow through.

“It’s really too early to say how China will behave during the summit, but for France, it’s a key topic,” she said, adding that this is more important for France than it is for China.

By announcing its goals in Paris, “maybe it’s a way to move on to topics of greater interest to the Chinese. One of these topics, of course, is economic cooperation.”

Investment sceptic

France is looking to rebalance a 26-billion-euro trade deficit with China by encouraging more French products to be exported.

But not everyone welcomes the deals that are being made between China and French companies during Li’s visit.

“Until now, we have had very little benefit from cooperation with China,” Jean-Vincent Brisset, of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, told RFI.

He says Chinese companies want access to European technology to copy it.

“We are helping them to counterfeit lots of things,” he says about French and Europe cooperation with China. He gives examples of military equipment: “They have ships that are really just counterfeit French ships; they have helicopters that are copies, with help from Eurocopter.”

Li will be in Marseille on Wednesday and is expected to finish his French visit in the city of Toulouse, where he will visit the Airbus headquarters.

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