Monday, October 03, 2005

From Wars to Welcome


Peter Ford noted in Friday's Christian Science Monitor that "On World Stage, France's Role Is Audience Favorite."
Ford resurrects an April 2005 study by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes and GlobeScan on what 23 countries' citizens think of other countries. The U.S. fares poorly in comparison with France, which is widely admired for its culture and its perceived willingness to stand up to Washington.

Nearly lost in the middle of the story are a few throwaway lines on France's active, long-term efforts to cultivate its historic foe, Germany, with impressive results.

[There have been] 60 years of French efforts to promote their relationship with neighboring Germany after fighting three wars in 70 years.

Those efforts have paid off. The hundreds of thousands of community, school, business, and cultural partnerships that have sprung up on both sides of the Rhine since the end of World War II have helped convince 77 percent of Germans that France plays a positive role in the world, according to the PIPA study.

German respect for French culture is deep. "They have a special feeling for design and art that makes them highly influential in the world," says Anete Bajrami, a newly qualified architect.

Germany may also be emulating France's approach to foreign policy:

For years, Germany resisted French efforts to enlist it as a counterweight to Washington. But some of France's fierce individuality has rubbed off on Berlin, says [Ludwigsburg German-French Institute deputy director Henrik] Utterwede. "There is this idea of friendship [with Washington], yes; obedience, no. There is a sense of emancipation in German foreign policy that can almost be considered 'Francophonization.'"

France's decades of patience, persistence and consistency have created big dividends; with what sound like relatively small investments in "community, school, business and cultural partnerships," not to mention its championing of the European Union, France no longer has to invest heavily in some 21st-century Maginot Line to protect its rear.

And guess who France is cultivating now, Ford and others say? The People's Republic of China, where it has just completed a two-year-long French Culture Year:

As the first Western nation to recognize Communist China, France won a special place in Chinese hearts (72 percent of Chinese respondents saw French influence as positive).

Beijing also warms to French policies, such as its failed crusade earlier this year to end a 16-year-old EU ban on arms sales to China, and its support for China's push to unify with Taiwan.

For ordinary Chinese, however, the Parisian pull appears to be more cultural. "Well-educated people in Beijing like French films more than American films now," says Wang Qing, a specialist in French cultural exchanges for the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. "In French films we can see something more sophisticated."

Asked why the Chinese liked France, Wang Li, a woman in Shanghai, replied simply, "The French have money and good culture."

That impression has no doubt been boosted by the "French Culture Year" that recently featured more than 300 art, dance, and musical events around China.

Maybe efforts like France's take decades to bear fruit—but that's about when China is expected to fully take its place among the world's dominant powers, and when a medium-weight power like France may need a superpower ally.

(Read the People's Daily's accounts of the Year's kick-off here and mid-September conclusion here. Thanks to Len Baldyga's e-mail stream for pointing the CSM item out.)

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