April 2023

By Karen A. Tramontano

Prior to French President Emmanuel Macron's state visit to China this April, Macron and U.S. President Biden agreed that Macron should seek China’s help to end Russian President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine. After Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow in March, many experts became increasingly concerned that China may provide arms and other military support to Russia. To avoid this outcome, Biden and Macron agreed to a more high-profile role for China, one that would seek China's engagement in bringing peace to Ukraine.

Despite their agreement – or perhaps because of it – the meeting between Macron and Xi, while appearing to go smoothly, drew sharp criticism. Macron intimated that France and, more broadly, Europe should distance itself from the U.S. Interestingly, while many Europeans criticized Macron and U.S. Republican leaders joined in that criticism, President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered neither criticism nor explanation.

Most, if not all, major U.S. media criticized Macron. The New York Times, prior to hearing European leaders criticize Macron, concluded that "trans-Atlantic leaders adopt different strategies on security and trade issues - including on Ukraine and Taiwan." Without acknowledging it may have been "a little over its skies," The New York Times less than 24 hours later wrote that European leaders were blasting Macron and distancing themselves from Macron.

The Washington Post Editorial Board took a different tact, asserting that Macron's trip and statements "exposed disunity in Europe over Beijing, and ... handed Chinese President Xi Jinping a propaganda coup, and for good measure, ... threw Taiwan under the bus by suggesting Europeans should not follow the United States in defending the island in the event of a Chinese invasion." The Post's Editorial Board concluded "That's a lot of damage from a three-day trip."

The news cycle in the U.S. moved quickly from reporting on European criticism of Macron to U.S. domestic concerns. Throughout the cycle, the press neither asked for President Biden's opinion nor did President Biden offer one. One wonders whether President Biden was channeling Winston Churchill, who once famously opined, "Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary... It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things."