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France and China advocate multilateralism

France and China urged more global cooperation on climate, biodiversity and trade after the U.S. began withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Agreement.

PARIS (AN) — French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping called for more global cooperation on climate change, biodiversity and trade on Wednesday, just days after U.S. President Donald Trump began the process of withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The two leaders' "Beijing Call for Biodiversity Conservation and Climate Change," a joint proposal expressing irreversible support for the landmark Paris climate treaty, accompanied similar shout-outs for the World Trade Organization, or WTO, and 2015 Iran nuclear deal. They also signed US$15 billion in trade deals during the French president's visit to China this week.

Xi, who has also visited France, said the talks and agreements with Macron were meant to send “a strong signal to the world about steadfastly upholding multilateralism and free trade, as well as working together to build open economies.”

Macron, for his part, carried a message that France and the European Union want Beijing's help in finding global approaches to the world's biggest challenges, rather than turning to Washington, where Trump's isolationism holds sway.

“One country’s isolated choice can’t change the course of the world,” said Macron, pointedly referring to Trump's rejection of the climate treaty and, more broadly, diplomacy through multilateral solutions. “It only leads to marginalization.”

The symbolism became clear when French and Chinese leaders talked over French beef and wines that were recently the target of new Trump administration tariffs. Trump's stiff tariffs starting last year sparked a tit-for-tat U.S.-China trade war involving hundreds of billions of dollars in goods between the world's two biggest national economies.

“I think he discovered Languedoc wine,” Macron said of Xi. “He wasn’t familiar with it. He liked it. He tasted a Burgundy and a classic Bordeaux wine.”

Macron said he also raised human rights issues with Xi, including China's response to five months of tense confrontations in Hong Kong between authorities and demonstrators calling for democracy. It was unclear whether he brought up China's severe crackdown, internment and indoctrination of as many as 1 million Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnic group, in the name of fighting separatism and religious extremism in the far western Xinjiang province.

Nonproliferation and trade reform

When world powers agreed to allow Iran’s economic opening to the West in exchange for curbs on its nuclear ambitions four years ago, the deal ushered in hopes that the Islamic Republic could become a significant new trading partner.

But after Trump decided to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, his administration reintroduced crippling U.S. sanctions on the Mideast regional power. Trump hoped to pressure Iran’s struggling economy and ruling regime to notch a better deal, but that inflamed transatlantic tensions.

With the deal unraveling, the pressure has been on Iran's European, Russian and Chinese trading partners to salvage it. The remaining signatories — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union — are standing by the deal, but Iran has taken a series of steps in recent days to move away from it unless there are better terms.

While in China, Macron sought Xi's help in boosting global security by propping up Iran’s small marketplace and broader political stability in the region, despite the pressure from the immense American market. The French leader said "the American error" to exit from the deal has brought about a "negative impact" on the region.

“Strong multilateralism is more efficient than shrill unilateralism,” Macron said. “China and France are together with the Europeans and Russians. We are convinced that we should increase our joint efforts to bring Iran back into compliance.”

Last year, Trump threatened to pull the United States out of the WTO. He told Bloomberg News that the 164-nation WTO, which aims to be a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements but is more commonly used to settle trade disputes, must start treating the United States better and take a tougher stance against China's trade infractions.

Because of the wide repercussions for the global economy, a U.S. withdrawal from the WTO would eclipse even the Trump administration’s other decisions to withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council, UNESCO and the Paris climate treaty.

The Geneva-based WTO, an independent organization that is not part of the United Nations system, was established at the start of 1995 to serve as a crucial part of the U.S.-led international order by upholding a global system of trade rules.

Macron said Europe and China must now help WTO revamp itself by creating "stable and cooperative trade rules at the international level." Though often critical of the subsidies and protectionism with China's top-down economy, the European Union believes that trade complaints must be handled in a rules-based system, not unilaterally through tariffs.

Trump also endangered the cohesion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO. He called the international organization “obsolete” during his campaign for the White House, and even suggested America might not defend the alliance’s members if they were attacked. As president, Trump suggested NATO allies should spend 4% of GDP on defense, double the current target of 2% by 2024, and he claimed Germany is compromised by an over-reliance on Russian energy.

Worries about the loss of American leadership and trust globally from Trump's "America First" policies extend well beyond partisan rancor between Democrats and Trump's Republican administration. Democrats began complaining about Trump's isolationism long before the impeachment proceedings against him got underway in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Macron is just saying what everyone knows. Trump is a risk to global security every day he remains in office," said U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut. "Trump’s constant attacks on NATO — and his indifference to allies — has shattered global faith in collective security. That’s a disaster."