Jean-Marc Ayrault was responding to Trump’s threats of a trade or currency war with China, as well as his surprise decision to speak directly by phone to the Taiwan president, Tsai Ing-wen.
Beijing lodged a complaint over the phone call, which it saw as a breach of the “one China” principle that officially considers the independently governed island to be part of the same single Chinese nation as the mainland.
In an unusual piece of public advice to an incoming US president, Ayrault told TV channel France 2: “Beware of China. It is a great country. There may be disagreements with China, but we do not talk like that to a partner. We must avoid getting into a spiral where things are out of control.
“When China feels challenged on its unity, that is not necessarily very clever. We will have to be very careful, but we can hope as the days go by the new American team has learned enough to manage an uncertain work with more coolness and responsibility.”
Trump stood firm on the issue on Sunday, saying the US did not necessarily have to stick to its longstanding position that Taiwan is part of one China.
By the beginning of this week, the Chinese response became more hardline. On Monday, Beijing warned any individual who threatened China’s interests in Taiwan that it would “lift a rock that would crush his feet”.
On Wednesday, An Fengshan, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said a US approach that favoured formal recognition of Taiwan threatened stability in the region.
“Upholding the ‘one China’ principle is the political basis of developing China-US relations, and is the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, he said. “If this basis is interfered with or damaged, then the healthy, stable development of China-US relations is out of the question, and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait will be seriously impacted.”
Until now, the French government has made little noise about the election of Trump, as it tries to gauge the extent of his likely influence on foreign policy, including towards Iran and Russia.
Broadly, the view in France is that Trump has little to gain from a downturn in relations with China when so much else needs to be addressed in Europe and the Middle East. French politicians are anxious that Trump does not seek to tear up the Iran nuclear deal and have noticed that China has been publicly advising the US not to do so.
On Monday, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, urged all sides to stick to the six-nation pact agreed last year. Without mentioning the US directly, Wang said: “Maintaining the deal’s continued, comprehensive and effective implementation is the responsibility and common interest of all parties, and should not be impacted by changes in the internal situation of each country.”
Ayrault has a history of speaking his mind, having accused the UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, of lying during the EU referendum campaign. In an interview with CNN during the US presidential election campaign, he described Trump’s foreign policy plans as “very confused”.
On Wednesday, he said the Trump administration would be judged by its deeds, but the US president-elect had selected “an unusual team after an usual election”.
Read more: French foreign minister says Trump's approach to China is 'not clever'