AMSTERDAM: French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday stood by his controversial comments on Taiwan, saying that being a US ally did not mean being a “vassal”.
Macron, wrapping up a state visit to the Netherlands during which he has also faced protests over pension reforms, said France still backed the “status quo” in Taiwan.
But the French leader appeared to stick by remarks in an interview at the weekend, in which he said Europe should not be a “follower” of either Washington or Beijing or get caught up in any escalation.
“Being an ally does not mean being a vassal… doesn’t mean that we don’t have the right to think for ourselves,” Macron told a press conference in Amsterdam with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Macron, who visited China last week, said French and European policy on Taiwan “has not changed” despite the furore over his remarks to Politico and Les Echos in which he backed Europe’s strategic autonomy.
“France is for the status quo in Taiwan” and a “peaceful resolution to the situation,” he added.
Honour of the workers
The first state visit to the Netherlands by a French president in 23 years was filled with pomp including a boat trip on one of Amsterdam’s scenic canals and a dinner in the capital’s famed Rijksmuseum.
But the two-day stay to promote ties between the two key EU members has not stopped Macron from facing pressure on a series of both domestic and foreign issues.
Macron’s weekend interview on Taiwan drew praise as “brilliant” in China — which rejects US support of what it sees as a breakaway province — but raised eyebrows among Western allies.
Former US president Donald Trump said that “Macron, who’s a friend of mine, is over with China, kissing his ass.”
Macron replied that he had “nothing to say about the comments by former President Trump because he is taking part in this escalation”.
Dutch premier Rutte said he agreed with Macron that Europe “must be a player and not a playing field”, but insisted that Washington remained an “essential partner when it comes to security and freedom”.
Rutte meanwhile said of the protests targeting Macron that “we are the hosts so you don’t want that”.
Police arrested two demonstrators who ran towards the French president outside Amsterdam University in an apparent protest against France increasing the pension age from 62 to 64.
“For the honour of the workers and a better world — even if Macron doesn’t like it, we are here,” one protester chanted, using the words of a French protest song, as he was pinned down by several security officials in Amsterdam.
Around 40 people protested when Macron left the university’s science faculty, in an event to promote the signing of a “pact for innovation” between France and the Netherlands.
The arrests came a day after protesters heckled Macron during a speech on European sovereignty in The Hague on Tuesday.
Macron later said reforms inevitably caused protests, citing recent rallies by Dutch farmers against environmental plans.
“We must sometimes accept controversy, and we must try to build a path for the future,” he told an audience of French people living in the Netherlands.
Ahead of a top court ruling on the pensions reforms on Friday and fresh strikes on Thursday, Macron told the press conference he wanted to work with unions and find a solution whatever the decision.
Macron’s visit wrapped up Wednesday with a visit to an exhibition of works by painter Johannes Vermeer at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, and a dinner in the hall where Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” is on display.
Earlier, Macron’s wife Brigitte and Dutch Queen Maxima toured the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, where the tragic teenage Jewish diarist hid from the Nazis during World War II.