Barcelona (Brussels Morning) France has described the submarine deal struck by Australia and the US as a ‘’stab in the back”, in a furious diplomatic row now enveloping the three allied nations. France’s Minister for European and Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Armed Forces condemned the new deal announced on Wednesday in the growing diplomatic crisis that has disrupted relations between France and its strategic Asia-Pacific ally, Australia.
Minister for European and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, told France Info that the US-Australia submarine deal amounted to a ‘’stab in the back’’. France had been contracted as Australia’s supplier of military submarines as part of a 31 billion euro deal signed in 2016. French media had hailed the pact as the ‘’deal of the century’’, citing how it strengthened France’s military relations with its strategically located Asia Pacific ally down under.
News that Australia was reneging on the submarine deal only publicly surfaced during a televised video conference between US President Joe Biden, UK PM Boris Johnson and Australian PM Scott Morrison that took place on Wednesday. Even then, Australia made no mention of France. The scuppering of the contract with France was confirmed on Thursday.
While Le Drian pointed an accusing finger at Australia, France’s Armed Forces Minister, Florence Parly, blamed Washington. She roundly condemned the US for damaging its relations with its key European ally France, and for the damage done to French ties with Australia, noting that the latter undermined a strategic partnership in the Indo-Pacific region at a time where “we [Western allies] face unprecedented challenges in the region.”
The deal signifies an “absence of coherence which France can only regret”, Parly said pointedly on Thursday.
Macron was warned
Today, Australia’s PM Morrison told local media that he had warned France’s President Macron about a potential rethink of the submarine contract back in June over a “lengthy dinner”. Morrison reportedly told Macron that he had concerns about the capabilities of conventional submarines when it came in confronting the “new strategic environment” Australia now faces —a reference to the militaristic and economic rise of China.
Australia-China relations deteriorated rapidly this year after the Australian parliament condemned China’s human rights abuses of the Uighur minority and Canberra called for more vigorous investigations into the origins of the COVID 19 pandemic. China responded with bullish boycotts and steep trade tariffs on Australian products, including wine and wool, costing Australia billions in lost revenue.
The deal between the US and Australia is a strategic effort by Washington to strengthen military relations in the Indo-Pacific region in the face of the rise of China’s increasingly hostile military presence in the South China Sea and surrounding areas.
Relations between Washington and Beijing in recent years have reached the point where some now term the tension between the two as the Cold War of the 21st century. Ties between the largest and second largest economies in the world worsened during the Trump administration after the trade war initiated in 2018, a situation that did not improve in the transition to the Biden administration.
The EU is experiencing its own heightened tensions with China. After Brussels condemned Chinese human rights abuses, China launched a trade war with the EU similar to that with the US. France, which is next in line to assume the presidency of the EU, this week released its strategy for the Indo-Pacific region, which features a trade deal with Taiwan—a defiant move likely to aggravate Beijing even further.