A misleading sub-agreement increases the risks
PARIS (AP) – The French ambassador to Australia has said Australian officials lied to his face and increased the risk of confrontation in Asia by reaching a secret submarine deal with the United States and Great Britain. Brittany which undermined confidence in democratic alliances.
France is determined to protect its interests in the Indo-Pacific region, and to put “muscle” in Europe’s geopolitical strategy towards an increasingly assertive China, Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault said on Friday. He spoke in an interview with The Associated Press before returning to his post in Canberra.
“The way you treat your allies resonates in the region,” Thebault said in a gilded chamber of the French Foreign Ministry on the banks of the Seine in Paris. “The logic of the confrontation is not good for the peace and stability of the region. We think we should act differently.
Thebault was recalled to Paris last month along with the French ambassador to the United States. The unprecedented diplomatic move reflected France’s depth of anger over a deal for Australia to obtain a fleet of eight nuclear submarines. built with American technology.
The deal, hidden from French authorities, thwarted a previous $ 66 billion contract for Australia for the purchase of 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines from a French manufacturer.
Beyond the broken contract, France believes that long-standing alliances have been trampled on, and its interests in the Pacific – where it has 2 million citizens on French territory and 7,000 soldiers – have been ignored.
“I don’t understand how it was possible to commit such a lie. I don’t understand how people, many of whom I know, could lie to me… face to face for 18 months, ”Thebault said of the Australian officials he worked with.
He noted that France made nuclear-powered submarines, but said Australia turned them down when their deal was first struck in 2016, opting for diesel-powered versions instead.
“You could have at least (…) had a frank and honest conversation, which never happened,” he said.
“Rejecting a country like France is almost sending a message that there are trusted partners and other partners, which is worrying in a region that needs (…) partnership and not antagonism, ”he said.
France is therefore turning to other “trusted partners in the region,” he said – citing India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand.
Putting “muscle” in the European Union’s Indo-Pacific strategy will be a priority for France as it takes over the rotating EU presidency on January 1, he said.
“The rise of China (…) is a problem that must be solved”, as well as climate change and its impacts on the Pacific islands, he said. He underlined the importance of “international rules, respect for human rights, respect for the freedom of navigation, respect for the sovereignty of countries”.
France returned its ambassador to the United States, a NATO partner, last month. French President Emmanuel Macron and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Paris this week, and Blinken told French television that “we could and should have communicated better.” President Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met his French counterpart this week.
But Thébault remained in Paris.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that the ambassador would return to Canberra to help “redefine the terms” of the bilateral relationship and defend French interests in winding up the contract. Thebault is expected to leave next week.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison hailed the decision, claiming that the bilateral relationship was more important than the canceled submarine contract. But Thebault suggested there was still work to be done before the relationship returned to normal.
Morrison said Macron would not take his calls. This week, Trade Minister Dan Tehan was snubbed by French officials while in Paris. And negotiations on a free trade agreement between Australia and the EU that were due to take place this month have been postponed until November.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.