XIAN (AFP) – In a response to panda power, French President Emmanuel Macron bet on equine diplomacy during his first state visit to China, presenting his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping with a horse as a gift.
The animal, a retired Republican Guard horse named Vesuve de Brekka, is in quarantine in China. But Macron was set to show a photo of it to Xi when they met on Monday in Beijing.
The French presidential office said Xi had been “fascinated” by the Republican Guard when he was escorted during a visit to Paris in 2014, but the choice of gift became a talking-point back home in France.
“Wishing to have friendly ties with foreign heads of state, Emmanuel Macron wants to make more than a gift — a diplomatic gesture,” the presidency said in a statement.
French historian Jean-Louis Gouraud, the author of a 2009 book on horses in politics, said he found the choice puzzling and wondered if it might be misinterpreted.
Horse exchanges have long been a diplomatic tradition, but they were offered in the past to all-powerful Chinese emperors as a sign of deference by visitors, and the move could be seen as showing Macron in a position of weakness.
On the other hand, the gift was a gelding — a castrated male — rather than a fertile stallion.
“I hope it won t be considered as a humiliation or disrespectful,” Gouraud told AFP. “For an Arab, it would be seen as an insult.”
Furthermore, the French leader s name in Mandarin is rendered “Ma-ke-long”, or “the horse vanquishes the dragon”.
The eight-year-old dark brown horse took part in its last presidential escort on November 11 on the Champs-Elysees. The horses are ridden by sword-wielding guards on formal occasions.
“We appreciate and express our thanks for this move,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular news briefing, adding that Macron s visit was of “great significance”.
“We believe this visit will further enhance the friendship between the two leaderships” and improve cooperation, Lu said.
Macron will also offer Xi a sabre engraved with the phrase “Mr. Emmanuel Macron – President of the French Republic – Beijing – January 2018”.
The gifts are Macron s answer to China s panda diplomacy in which the once critically endangered bears are loaned by Beijing to foreign countries as a sign of friendship.
One such loan resulted in the birth of a panda in France last year, which led to Macron s wife, 64-year-old former school teacher Brigitte, being named as its godmother.
The horse arrived in China on a special plane accompanied by the Republican Guard s chief veterinarian and a member of the unit on January 4, four days before Macron.
It will remain in quarantine before joining Xi s presidential stable.