On Sunday 24th March, Chinese President Xi Jinping will make a historic visit to the Principality of Monaco. It follows almost a decade of concerted effort to build a relationship with China, one of the word’s largest and most alluring markets.
Ahead of the visit, Monaco Life Editor Cassandra Tanti sat down with Monaco’s Ambassador to China Catherine Foutrier to understand more about this unique relationship, and how a tiny Principality managed to secure a visit from one of the most important leaders in the world.
Thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule to talk to Monaco Life. Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be Monaco’s Ambassador to China?
I have worked for the government for 25 years and I was previously in charge of Monaco Inter Expo and the various national pavilion exhibitions across the world. Essentially, I was in charge of the Monaco pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010 and we had enormous success there. So when it came time for Prince Albert to change ambassadors he asked if I would like to take the position and of course I said yes.
So the Shanghai pavilion proved to be an important turning point for Monaco?
I think this was the very beginning of the strong relationship that we have with China now, because the visibility we had during that exhibition was fantastic and it helped us to establish different contacts in various aspects – tourism, culture and economy.
Back then, there was a lot of curiosity on both sides. No one really knew how China was working at that time, the country was just at the beginning of opening their markets, so companies in Monaco were very interested to see if there were opportunities for new business. And the Chinese market didn’t know anything about Monaco at the time beyond the Prince and the Grand Prix, so it was interesting for them to learn more about our culture.
How different is Monaco’s relationship now with China than it was almost a decade ago?
We started from almost nothing and now we have so many different links with China. We have many meetings there, our tourism department goes to China each year to promote Monaco as a destination, and there are annual trade missions to China with the Monaco Economic Board, the last one of which was incredibly successful.
From a cultural aspect, we were able to host ‘The Forbidden City in Monaco: Imperial Court Life in China’ exhibition two years ago, which lead to a cultural exchange between Monaco and China in September 2018, when Prince Albert inaugurated the ‘Princes and Princesses of Monaco’ exhibition at the Forbidden City in Beijing.
Can you tell us more about that state visit? What were some of the highlights for you?
Everything was just “wow”. To see all of the Monaco flags flying on Tiananmen Square, the historical items from Monaco, such as the Prince’s throne, inside the Forbidden City. It was something extremely special, to see the smallest country in the world inside the Forbidden City, which in itself is almost bigger than Monaco.
But the highlight was witnessing the connection between President Xi Jinping and Prince Albert. I had the chance to attend two official meetings with both President Xi and Prince Albert and the future of the environment is a subject upon which they talk about, a lot. To see the heads of states linked and connected about something so important, it was really something special. They have a very similar view on this subject, the same concern about the future of our planet, and they really do want to do something together.
So, this is a perfect example of where being small can be an advantage, there are no conflicts between the two countries…
Yes exactly, and Prince Albert is the only one who can do this. He is the only head of state who can go to all of the countries across the globe and talk to all the leaders without having any vested interest or agenda. Monaco is not a superpower, we have no agriculture, no weapons, no oil, no primary resources. But thanks to that, Prince Albert can connect with and talk directly to world leaders and say to them “we all have to do something”. He has this legitimacy because we are not in competition from an economic point of view, so he can deliver his message. And thanks to his involvement, Monaco has a wonderful image all over the world.
Six years ago, China initiated it’s ‘War on pollution’, which has seen dramatic results – a 70% reduction in Sulphur dioxide and a 36% reduction in particle pollution. Prince Albert must be very impressed with President Xi’s leadership?
China has done a fantastic job on this particular aspect. It hit a really critical point and started to become a disaster for the population. But what is amazing about China is that as soon as the political system decides to do something, all of the country takes action and moves together to achieve it. They’ve done very well in reducing the air pollution but also in cleaning the rivers and land. They are much more advanced than the EU, for example. Ten years ago all bicycles and motorcycles were already electric in China, and we have just started here in Europe to have electric vehicles!
What are some of the positive outcomes of this mutual interest in the environment?
We are really developing our relationship with China on this aspect. The Prince Albert of Monaco Foundation has been working with China for a few years now and on Tuesday we received authorisation from the Chinese government to open our first representative office in Beijing. It means that Monaco can start to work more easily with China. Because if you want to work with China you have to be based there. We had to show them our willingness to work with them, but it was difficult to move forward with other collaborations.
How will this help in doing business with China?
The real economy today is based on sustainable development and the protection of the environment, so there will be more and more companies dealing with products, etc. regarding this aspect.
Finally, can you share with us the schedule of President Xi’s visit on Sunday?
It will be quite a short visit because he is visiting Monaco in the middle of Italy and China. And by the way, it is the first state visit of a Chinese President to Monaco, so the programme will be very official at the palace: an official welcome ceremony with all the army corps, then the president and his wife will have a private meeting with Prince Albert and Princess Charlene. Then there will be a bilateral meeting with both representatives of the Chinese and Monaco governments, and after that a state lunch at the palace. There will also be some students who are learning mandarin who will deliver a small theatre show. It is going to be brief but busy.