France recalled Friday its ambassadors to the United States and Australia, an unprecedented decision vis-à-vis two historic allies, after the torpedoing of a mega-contract of French submarines in Canberra.
“At the request of the President of the Republic, I decided to immediately recall to Paris for consultations with our two ambassadors in the United States and in Australia”, announced the head of French diplomacy Jean-Yves Le Drian in a press release . “This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on September 15 by Australia and the United States,” he added.
“We have been in close contact with our French allies”, and “we hope to be able to continue our discussion on this subject at a high level in the coming days, including at the UN General Assembly next week” in New York , reacted the spokesman for the American diplomacy, Ned Price, in a tweet, ensuring “understand their position”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Jean-Yves Le Drian will both be present next week in New York for the major annual meeting of world diplomacy. A little earlier, a senior White House official had already said on condition of anonymity “regret” that the French “have taken this step”.
The United States, Australia and the United Kingdom announced Wednesday a strategic partnership to counter China, AUKUS, including the supply of American nuclear-powered submarines to Canberra, which effectively took the French out of the game.
The abandonment of the French submarine project and the announcement of a new partnership “constitute unacceptable behavior between allies and partners, the consequences of which affect the very conception that we make of our alliances, our partnerships and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe, ”insisted Jean-Yves Le Drian.
France had signed in 2016 a contract of 90 billion Australian dollars (56 billion euros) for the supply of 12 submarines with diesel propulsion to Australia, often qualified of “contract of century” because of its scale and its strategic scope.
Since the announcement of the partnership, Paris has not taken off, deeming to have been betrayed by Australia as well as by the United States who have made the rivalry against China their number one priority and ask their allies for a greater commitment to their side in Indo-Pacific, a crucial area for the world economy.
The backdrop to this diplomatic crisis is the rise of China and its increasingly aggressive policy in the area, which worries many countries. Trade tensions between Beijing and Canberra have grown steadily since 2018. In recent months, China has imposed severe economic sanctions against many Australian products.
The head of French diplomacy denounced Thursday a “blow in the back” of Australia, and a “brutal” decision of US President Joe Biden, which he compared to the methods of his predecessor Donald Trump.
France also canceled a gala evening scheduled for Friday evening to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Chesapeake Bay, decisive in the United States War of Independence, concluded with a victory for the French fleet over the British fleet, the September 5, 1781. Europeans now have a “fairly clear” idea of how Washington views its allies, it is stressed in Paris.
Joe Biden, whose election was greeted with relief in Europe, has certainly promised to treat his NATO allies with more consideration than his predecessor. But from Afghanistan to the American-Australian-British alliance for which France has paid the price, he has acted unilaterally, assuming absolute continuity with Donald Trump’s “America first” slogan.
A disappointment well understood?
Australia said Friday it understood the French “disappointment” while wishing to continue working with Paris. “Obviously these are very difficult issues to deal with,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said from Washington. “But we will continue to work constructively and in close collaboration with our French colleagues,” she promised.
Firing on all cylinders, Paris wondered how to trust Canberra from now on in the trade negotiations between the EU and Australia. “We have trade negotiations with Australia, I do not see how we can trust the Australian partner,” said Secretary of State for European Affairs Clément Beaune.
As for the United Kingdom, also a party to the AUKUS agreement, which left the EU by explaining that it wants to regain its sovereignty, it is in the process of placing itself in a position of “junior associate” which is hiding in “the bosom ”of Washington, he lamented. The ambassador in London has not been recalled, moreover.
In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison replied to Beijing’s anger after the announcement of this partnership which provides that Canberra has nuclear submarines, with more autonomy and more discreet than the conventional submarines proposed France.
Beijing has a “very important nuclear submarine construction program,” he said. “They have the right to make defense decisions in their own interests, and of course Australia and all the other countries too.”
Because China had reacted strongly, qualifying the acquisition of these submarines as “extremely irresponsible” and threatening in particular stability in the Indo-Pacific region. She also pointed to the fact that she calls into question international nuclear non-proliferation efforts.
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