Macron and Trump: ‘frenemies’ in open disagreement

Macron and Trump had held several phone calls during which they rebuilt a relationship that had started surprisingly well after Macron’s election in 2017. (File/AFP)
Updated 06 June 2019

Macron and Trump: ‘frenemies’ in open disagreement

  • The two leaders will meet at the Colleville-sur-Mer American cemetery in northern France and then sit down for a working lunch in the town of Caen
  • Macron and Trump had held several phone calls during which they rebuilt a relationship that had started surprisingly well after Macron’s election in 2017

PARIS: The last time French President Emmanuel Macron hosted Donald Trump in France, it turned into a diplomatic fiasco which underlined how once warm relations between the men had chilled to the point of freezing.
As the two men prepare to hold talks on Thursday on the sidelines of D-Day commemorations, Macron and French diplomats are hoping for a smoother run.
Trump’s trip in November last year for the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I culminated in a hail of bad-tempered tweeting caused by the US president’s bruised ego, a French diplomat told AFP.
During a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, with Trump seated among 70 leaders in the French capital, Macron delivered a speech that included an open rebuke of his brand of “America First” nationalism.
“Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” the 41-year-old centrist French leader said in a 20-minute address that also criticized “saying our interests come first and others don’t matter.”
The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the US real estate mogul had been angered by those lines and was also frustrated when a planned trip to an American military cemetery by helicopter was canceled due to bad weather.
“There was also the sense that he came and he was one among other leaders and not THE leader who would make the big speech,” the diplomat explained. “It was a difficult period to manage.”
Two days after leaving the French capital, Trump let his fury known, mocking Macron for his “very low approval ratings” and writing how the French “were starting to learn German in Paris before the US came along” in World War II.
The US role in liberating France will be commemorated on Thursday by Trump and Macron on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings when 150,000 Allied troops began an invasion of Nazi-ruled France.
The two leaders will meet at the Colleville-sur-Mer American cemetery in northern France and then sit down for a working lunch in the town of Caen.
Their wives Melania and Brigitte, who have reportedly struck up a warm relationship, are to lunch together separately.
The French diplomat said that after the open hostilities in November, Macron and Trump had held several phone calls during which they rebuilt a relationship that had started surprisingly well after Macron’s election in 2017.
The US president was made a guest of honor of France’s National Day in July of that year and the two men referred to each other as “friends” and repeatedly patted each other on the back. The visit ended with a 25-second-long handshake.
“The relationship is still warm and direct,” the diplomat said. “Our approach has stayed the same: we continue to try to persuade and at the same time to cushion the impact when we haven’t succeeded.”
The problem for Macron is that his successes in persuading Trump and changing his thinking are few and far between, while the policy disagreements and gap between their visions of the world are becoming ever more glaring.
“Macron is not shy about saying the problem in the world is the populist nationalist movement,” Trump’s one-time adviser and campaign manager Steve Bannon told AFP in a recent interview.
“Macron is always looking to take a shot at the nationalists and I think sometimes he’s done it in inappropriate situations,” he added, saying that Trump in his view had been “very magnanimous” given the criticism.
He also recalled Macron’s speech to the US Congress in Washington in April last year, which he said included “several nasty lines” about the dangers of nationalism and isolationism.
The French leader, sometimes described as an “anti-Trump” on the world stage, has been a vocal critic of unilateral US decisions to pull out of the 2015 deal governing Iran’s nuclear program and the Paris climate accord.
On Monday, he again condemned Trump’s trade policies, which have led to tariffs on European steel and aluminum imports and a growing trade war with China.
“With the US, we have discussions because they decide to put tariffs with unreasonable scenarios and argumentation,” Macron told global bankers in Paris in comments delivered in English.
Macron also knows that being critical of the American president plays well domestically in France where Trump is widely unpopular.
A poll by the YouGov survey group released on Wednesday showed that only 17 percent of French people had a positive view of the former reality TV star.
And only 24 percent thought Macron should take a more cooperative approach with him.
“With every American administration, there are things we disagree on, different interests, but we express ourselves clearly,” a second French diplomatic source said.
A sign of how far the Trump-Macron relationship has turned comes from the front garden of the White House.
When Macron visited for a state visit in April 2018, still hoping to persuade Trump to respect the Iran nuclear deal and drop tariffs on European steel imports, the two leaders planted an oak tree together.
The sapling, taken from a battlefield in France where US soldiers had fought in World War I, has since withered and died, Le Monde newspaper reported Wednesday.


South Korean ‘cult’ blamed for spike in coronavirus cases

Updated 14 min 37 sec ago

South Korean ‘cult’ blamed for spike in coronavirus cases

  • Critics say the group’s secretive nature and the manner in which it worships could have lead to the fast spread of the virus
  • Most of the confirmed cases are in the city of Daegu, about 300 km southeast of Seoul, where large services for Shincheonji members were held on Feb. 16

SEOUL: With the number of coronavirus cases skyrocketing in South Korea in the past week, a local fringe Christian sect has been blamed for the growing outbreak.
As of Wednesday, a total of 1,261 people had tested positive with 12 deaths reported. Just a week ago, the number of infected persons stood at 50. However, South Korea has seen by far the highest number of the Covid-19 cases outside China.
Health authorities believe the Shincheonji Church of Jesus is at the heart of the alarming spread of the pandemic, as more than half of the confirmed cases have been found to be linked to the religious sect, which is widely regarded as a cult.
“The mass infections came after Shincheonji followers took part in the Feb. 16 service and had frequent contacts around that time,” Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korean Center for Disease Control (KCDC), told reporters on Wednesday.
Most of the confirmed cases are in the city of Daegu, about 300 km southeast of Seoul, where large services for Shincheonji members were held on Feb. 16. Thousands of worshippers are believed to have attended, authorities said.
The other cluster of infections is a hospital in Cheongdo, a neighboring county of Daegu. Shincheonji members are also known to have visited the hospital, according to the KCDC officials.
Officially called the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, the group was founded in 1984 and claims to have around 240,000 followers worldwide.
Shincheonji followers are taught to believe that Lee Man-hee, the founder of the organization, is the second coming or the returned Christ. The church claims the Bible is written in metaphors which only its founder can correctly interpret.
Critics say the group’s secretive nature and the manner in which it worships could have lead to the fast spread of the virus.
“They hold services sitting packed together on the floor and kneel very close to one another,” Shin Hyun-uk, director of the Guri Cult Counseling Center, said.
Shin was a member of the cult for 20 years until 2006 and has been leading a campaign to extract members from the church ever since he realized that “the group was not a normal religion.”
Shin said the Shincheonji churchgoers shout out “amen” at the top of their lungs “after every sentence the pastor utters.”
“While holding services, worshippers send respiratory droplets flying everywhere, causing the virus to be transmitted easily,” he said.
Most members of the church hide their membership, which means the virus goes undetected, Sin warned.
“Few families of the Shincheonji members know their sons, daughters, wives, husbands and parents were taken in the cult religion. I guess only 20 to 30 percent of the family members of the Shincheonji worshippers would recognize it,” he said. “That’s the key reason health officials have difficulty in tracking and curbing the virus being transmitted from worshippers to others.”
A 61-year-old female member of the sect tested positive for the virus last week, but initially refused to be transferred to a hospital so as not to reveal the fact that she had attended Shincheonji gatherings.
A Daegu health official responsible for quarantine also revealed he is a Shincheonji member after being tested positive.
Critics say uncovering the identities of Shincheonji members will be difficult since the group conceals the names of politicians, public officials and other celebrities.
Amid growing public anger at the sect, the group said at the weekend that it will fully cooperate with government investigations.
On Tuesday, officials broke into the group’s headquarters in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, to discover a full list of members for quarantine measures.
The government said it has secured a list of 212,000 Shincheonji worshippers and will begin conducting coronavirus tests on those who have respiratory symptoms.
Over 800,000 people have signed an online petition since Saturday after it was filed on the website of the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae.
Authorities are looking into how the disease was first transmitted to the group. More than 9,000 Shincheonji worshippers have been put under quarantine.
The Seoul government has been scrambling to contain growing expressions of public anger.
As of Wednesday morning, over 400,000 South Koreans had signed an online petition calling for President Moon Jae-in to be impeached.
Petitioners say Moon failed to halt entry to visitors from all parts of China, only prohibiting the entry of foreigners from China’s Hubei province, where Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, is located.
Meanwhile, the US Forces Korea (USFK) reported on Tuesday that it had detected the first infection in one of its troops. The 23-year-old soldier is stationed at Camp Carroll, near Daegu, but has been quarantined at his home off base, according to the command. The development came a day after a widow of a retired US soldier living in Daegu contracted the virus.
“KCDC and USFK health professionals are actively conducting contact tracing to determine whether any others may have been exposed,” the USFK said in a news release Feb. 25.
“USFK is implementing all appropriate control measures to help control the spread of Covid-19 and remains at risk level ‘high’ for USFK peninsula-wide as a prudent measure to protect the force,” it said.
More countries, including Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore, have started to impose bans on South Korean travelers because of the virus outbreak.