Fold again, and without hanging around, please. In short, this is what France asked its envoys stationed in Australia and the United States, after these two countries torpedoed the mega-deal they had with Canberra on the sale of submarines. “At the request of the president of the Republic, I have decided to immediately recall our two ambassadors to the United States and Australia to Paris for consultations,” Jean-Yves Le Drian, head of French diplomacy, wrote in a statement on Friday, September 17. The recall is a historic decision, unprecedented by US and Australian allies.
“This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the notices issued on September 15 by Australia and the United States,” he added. “We have been in close contact with our French partners about their decision to recall the ambassador to Paris for consultations. We regret that they took this step, however we will remain committed in the coming days to resolve our differences, as we have done at other times in our long Coalition,” a White House official responded on condition of anonymity.
The United States, Australia and the United Kingdom announced on Wednesday a strategic partnership to counter China, Augus, including supplying U.S. nuclear-powered submarines in Canberra, effectively pulling the French out of the sport. The abandonment of the French submarine program and the announcement of a new partnership “is unacceptable behavior between allies and partners, the consequences of which affect the conception of our alliances, our partnership and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe,” Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
56 billion euro deal
France signed a 90 billion Australian dollar (56 billion euro) deal in 2016 to supply Australia with 12 diesel-powered submarines, often referred to as the “deal of the century” due to its size and strategic scope. Since the partnership was announced, Paris has not departed, considering that it was betrayed by Australia and the United States, making competition against China their number one priority and asking for greater commitment on their part in the Indo-Pacific, a critical area for the global economy.
The backdrop to this diplomatic crisis is China’s rise and its increasingly aggressive policy in the region, which worries many countries. Notably, trade tensions between Beijing and Canberra have not stopped growing since 2018. In recent months, China has imposed severe economic sanctions on many Australian products.
Canberra wants to continue working “constructively” with Paris
Australia said on Friday it understood the French were “disappointed” but wanted to continue working with Paris. “Obviously these are very difficult issues to deal with,” Australia’s top diplomat, Marise Payne, said from Washington. “But we will continue to work constructively and in close cooperation with our French counterparts,” he pledged. With all his might, Paris wondered how Canberra could now be trusted in the EU-Australia trade talks.
“We are having trade talks with Australia and I don’t see how we can trust the Australian partner,” said Clement Beaune, Secretary of state for European affairs. For the United Kingdom, a party to the Agus agreement, left explaining that the EU wants to regain its sovereignty, it puts itself in the “junior partner” position of hiding in Washington’s “lap,” he lamented. The ambassador in London has not been recalled.
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