As part of our series on influential women in the Pearl River Delta, DB spoke to Siv Leng Chhuor – the Consul-General of France to Guangzhou. Having been appointed as recently as September, DB spoke to her about her first few months in the role, the relationship between France and South China, and about being the first woman to ever hold this historic post.

DB: You just started your role as Consul-General to Guangzhou in September. How have you found the first few months?

Fascinating and busy! The first days in a new position are always a privileged moment of listening and meeting. Since my arrival I have been meeting with fantastic people and building bridges. I want to thank both the French community and our Chinese friends here in Guangzhou for their warm welcome – they all contribute to the influence of France and the strengthening of the relationship between France and China.

DB: What was your first impression of Guangzhou and the Pearl River Delta?

I already had a special relationship with China. I was posted at the embassy in Beijing ten years ago, and was in charge among other issues of relations with the provinces. I went on a trip back then and it was a great first impression at the time. I always told myself I would come back one day – professionally or privately.

This region is very pleasant – it’s full of energy, and the food is great! I like the mixture of history, tradition and modernity. Despite the massive changes, the identity of the city is still the same.

DB: The post of Consul-General of France to Canton first opened in 1777. How does it feel to be the first woman ever to hold it?

To succeed to the first consul 240 years ago is a huge honour. I’m very proud to be the 57th consul here and to represent France in Southern China, but at the same time it’s a huge responsibility and a big challenge. As the first female – it’s important that there are more and more female consuls or ambassadors symbolically, but what’s most important is the commitment of the consul general, whether man or women does not change anything on the ground.

DB: What do you think is the current focus of the relationship between South China and France?

Southern China and France have a very long-standing relationship, particularly in the economic and commercial fields. Currently, more than 300 French companies are located in Southern China, one quarter of the whole French businesses based in China. We want more economic exchanges, as we want to see more and more students, tourists, artists’ exchanges. We have to look right in the future to see what we can do together in science, technology, culture, economy, etc. We can do more together. We are two great countries. We are two old countries which have old history and culture, but also two great countries in terms of industry and energy, two key sectors for the planet’s future.
The France-China cooperation has played an important role in the Paris agreement on Climate change in 2015. We need to continue to come together to face the challenges of the multipolar world of tomorrow.

We have a very busy schedule of visits between our countries. The French president Emmanuel Macron visited China last January. That visit gave a new impetus to the bilateral relationship.

DB: Tell us about the new consulate location in Zhujiang New Town?

We have a new “House of France” for the French community, and for our Chinese friends. The former location, of course, was also very nice, but the new premises are in a more central area. The French presence in Southern China opens a new page of our history with this new location. It will improve the services offered to the French Community but also to our Chinese friends who come every year more numerous to France.

DB: What other major initiatives or events are the Consulate working on at the moment?

Wee continue to work on the strengthening of economic relations, with an important project notably in the field of care for the elderly. Generally speaking, we want to deepen our cooperation in the traditional sectors (such as civilian nuclear energy, industrial equipment) and give an additional boost to partnership in new sectors, such as health but also sustainable development and innovation. France is a country of culture but is also one of the most innovative economies in the world. There is room for bigger cooperation in this field. Our new President, Emmanuel Macron, is vigorously supporting initiatives in establishing France as a leading startup nation.

The second priority is to promote human exchanges. The first act of this is increasing student mobility. Right now there are 30,000 Chinese students in France, following in the footsteps of such notable Chinese as Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai. It’s an important figure, but not enough. We are hoping that more students will choose to study or carry out internship in France in the future. The second act is tourism. Beyond the economic dimension, it helps to build bridges between people. Two million Chinese nationals visited France in 2016 – and now Chinese friends can get a visa in 48 hours, and even 24 hours when you travel in a group in certain circumstances. We’re taking measures to facilitate their visits. Furthermore, it’s been a few months that the French Consulate General offers a local service to Chinese travelers living far from the visa centers as we tour the provinces to collect the fingerprints of visa applicants.

Regarding culture, there are three major events this year. The first is the Month of Francophonie which will take place in March. Then there is the Crossroads Festival, which will take place in April. Then there is the Month of Environment, which is in September. These are the three big events of 2018, but we are working on many other cultural events like Goût de/Good France, dedicated to the promotion of French gastronomy overseas, in March – Lyon and Guangzhou is celebrating this year the 30th anniversary of their sister ties. The French consulate will continue to put focus on cultural and human exchanges. Without understanding between people, there can be no lasting ties between two countries.