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Australia and France reset relationship after ‘back-stabbing’ defense deal

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Australia and France reset relationship after ‘back-stabbing’ defense deal

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PARIS — France and Australia are to reset their bilateral relationship after a two-year ‘cold war’ following a ‘back-stabbing’ defence deal that saw Canberra renege on a huge military contract to buy submarines from Paris.

This week, foreign ministers Catherine Colonna and Penny Wong signed a new deal to share military bases and training facilities in the Pacific, clearly hoping to put the past few years behind them and move on.

“We are determined to step up, beef up our cooperation with the partners in the region including of course, with the number one partner for us in the region, Australia,” Colonna said.

Wong added that Australia was keen to work more closely with the French military, particularly in the Pacific.

Speaking at the National Press Club before their meeting, Colonna said the French government had “decided to move on” following the fallout from the debacle of the submarine deal.

Relations between the two countries hit rock bottom after former Australian prime minister Scott Morrison angered Paris in 2021 by pulling the plug on a $90 billion Australian (€55 billion) contract for a fleet of French-built submarines.

Morrison opted for a nuclear-powered US model under the AUKUS partnership with the UK and the US instead.

France’s then foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the move as a “stab in the back.”

“Colonna’s visit to Australia is a clear signal that France has decided to close the book on what was a very bad bit of diplomatic manoeuvring from the Australian side,” John Fowler, a former Australian diplomat and co-founder of the daily global affairs newsletter ‘International Intrigue’ told Euronews.

“Of course, Australia is only too happy to move on as well”.

Colonna described the aftermath of the AUKUS pact as not “pleasant”.

The move prompted France to temporarily recall its ambassador in Canberra and the infamous response from the French president, Emmanuel Macron when asked if he thought Morrison had lied to him about the deal.

“I don’t think, I know,” Macron replied.

Fowler explains that France’s initial anger toward the Australian decision was also about “the shock and subsequent distrust France felt at being kept out of the loop on the AUKUS partnership”.

Australia’s “clumsy diplomacy” gave France a “public target for their anger that might have more accurately been directed at the UK and the US,” he said.

With the AUKUS security partnership now clearly here to stay, Fowler points out that France will try to work with AUKUS countries where it can rather than risk being “left on the outside looking in”.

“Bilateral tensions were a storm in a teacup… of course, a change of government in Australia and of foreign minister in France helped too”.

While Fowler expects there to be some “scar tissue” in the relationship, he doubts it will affect anything going forward.

The new bilateral roadmap signed on Monday aims at improving relations in three areas: security and defence; climate action and resilience; and culture and education.

It comes as France seeks to establish a greater presence in the Indo-Pacific to fend off influence from China.

Beijing recently stepped up military exercises in the strategically important Taiwan Strait, and China’s coast guard has been accused of harassing Philippine fishing boats in disputed waters.

Colonna called on China to show restraint in its actions in the South China Sea, saying that “the world does not need a new crisis.”

Professor Steven L. Lamy, an expert in Global Security at the University of Southern California told Euronews that France is trying to ensure it has a voice in “the new great power competition phase” of global politics.

“They have lost influence in many parts of Africa where China, the US, and Russia are battling for influence and access to critical resources, so where else can it go?”

Lamy explains that France has territory in the region and wants friends.

“With the UK out of the EU, France is looking to become the major global power within the EU as the EU tries to extend its global influence”.

Last month Australia criticised Beijing for “unsafe and unprofessional” conduct at sea, saying one of its navy divers was injured by sonar pulses from a nearby Chinese warship.

“We are of course concerned about what happened a few days ago to the Australian navy, as well as what happened to the Philippines a few weeks ago,” Colonna added.

The French Foreign Affairs Minister also said she was open to any resettlement request from tiny South Pacific nations threatened by rising sea levels.

Colonna said France had watched with “great interest” last month when up to 280 Tuvaluans were offered the opportunity to come to Australia each year to escape the rising seas and increased storms brought by climate change.

But she said she was not sure if the French Pacific territories of French Polynesia and New Caledonia had the capacity to make similar offers. — Euronews

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