Whether he’s persuading Airbus to sell planes to Bangladesh or combing Mongolia for rare earths, French President Emmanuel Macron is on the attack in Asia, positioning France as a viable alternative to larger nations.
After two days of high-level negotiations with G20 leaders in New Delhi, where he had lunch with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Macron flew to Bangladesh, a fast-growing South Asian country of 170 million people.
The two-day stay in Dhaka was part of a French plan to target mid-sized countries in a region dominated by superpowers such as China, Russia, and the United States.
“In a region facing new imperialism, we want to propose a third way,” Macron told Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after landing in a sweltering Dhaka late on Sunday.
“All our strategy is focused on strengthening the independence and the strategic autonomy of our friends to give them the ‘freedom of sovereignty’,” Macron said.
The French leader, who Hasina called “a breath of fresh air in international politics”, was hot on the heels of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who visited Bangladesh a few days before the G20 summit.
Russia is building a nuclear power plant in Bangladesh, a $13 billion project financed by a Russian government loan.
The French are also trying to sell their nuclear expertise, even if a power plant contract is a more distant prospect.
They are making more progress in the aerospace sector, however. In a country long dominated by Boeing, Macron on Monday clinched a deal for Airbus to sell 10 A-350 aircraft to national flagship carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines Ltd.
The Bangladesh trip comes after a series of short but high-level trips by Macron this year to Asian nations such as Mongolia, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka.