In an interview with the Financial Times, Macron said it was “naive” to suggest that China had dealt better with the crisis.
The BBC reports that this comes amid a row sparked by an article on the Chinese embassy’s website that said Western countries had left the elderly to die in care homes.
China dismissed the row as a “misunderstanding”, with government spokesman Zhao Lijian saying China had never made any negative comments about how France was coping with the epidemic “and has no intention of making any”.
Asked if China’s authoritarian response to bring the outbreak under control had exposed the weakness of Western democracies, Mr Macron told the FT that there was no comparison between open societies and those where truth was suppressed.
“Given these differences, the choices made and what China is today, which I respect, let’s not be so naive as to say it’s been much better at handling this,” he said.
“We don’t know. There are clearly things that have happened that we don’t know about.”
The French president added that abandoning freedoms to fight the pandemic would threaten Western democracies.
“We can’t accept that. You can’t abandon your fundamental DNA on the grounds that there is a health crisis.”
France has seen 141,000 cases of Covid-19 and nearly 18,000 deaths. China has recorded 4,632 deaths – including an extra 1,290 deaths announced on Friday in the city of Wuhan, where the pandemic started and where a strict lockdown has only recently been lifted.
Local officials said early reporting there had been delayed and inaccurate.
Countries including the US, the UK and France have questioned China’s transparency over the outbreak that has claimed about 135,000 lives globally