Paris is not determined to let the page turn so easily. Forty-eight hours after the breach of the gigantic contract between France and Australia for the supply of twelve conventional submarines, the Quai d’Orsay proceeded to a gesture as shattering as symbolic. “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, on the night of September 17 to 18. “This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on September 15 by Australia and the United States”, he added.
The United States was quick to respond, seeking to play appeasement. “We have been in close contact with our French partners on their decision to recall Ambassador Étienne to Paris for consultations. We understand their position and will continue to strive in the coming days to resolve our differences, as we have done at other times during our long alliance ”, thus reacted the spokesperson for the National Security Council of the United States, Emily Horne.
A strategic partnership to counter China
This unprecedented measure between the two historic allies shows to what extent the torpedoing of the “Contract of the century” is taken seriously by the French. On Wednesday September 15, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom had indeed announced a strategic partnership to counter China, including the supply of American nuclear-powered submarines to Canberra. Problem: this decision was tantamount to ousting France, when it had signed, in 2016, a contract of 56 billion euros for the supply of 12 diesel-powered submarines to Australia. This contract was often referred to as “Century contract” because of its scale and strategic reach.
→ THE FACTS. Sale of submarines: France condemns Australian withdrawal
Since the announcement of the partnership, Paris believes it has been betrayed by both Australia and the United States, which have made the rivalry against China their number one priority and who are asking their allies for a greater commitment to their side in Indo. -Pacific, a crucial area for the world economy.
Countering the rise of China
The backdrop to this diplomatic crisis is, in fact, the rise of China and its increasingly aggressive policy in the area, which worries many countries. In particular, trade tensions between Beijing and Canberra have not stopped growing since 2018. In recent months, China has imposed severe economic sanctions against many Australian products.
The French nevertheless denounce a return of American unilateralism. Europeans now have an idea “Quite clear” of the way in which Washington considers 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. However, from Afghanistan to the American-Australian-British alliance of which France has paid the price, he acted unilaterally, assuming absolute continuity with the slogan « America first » de Donald Trump.
→ EDITORIAL. Damage in Australia
A more difficult relationship with Australia
Firing on all cylinders, Paris wondered how to trust Canberra from now on in the trade negotiations underway between the European Union and Australia. “I do not see how we can trust the Australian partner”, launched the Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune.
As for the United Kingdom, also a party to the Aukus agreement, and which left the European Union explaining that it wanted to regain its sovereignty, it is in the process of placing itself in a position of“Junior partner” who is hiding in “The bosom” of Washington, again lamented the French minister. 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 conventional submarines. proposed by France.
Beijing has a “Very important nuclear submarine construction program”, he recalled. “They have the right to make defense decisions in their own interests, and of course Australia and all the other countries too. “
Because China reacted strongly, qualifying the acquisition of these submarines as“Extremely irresponsible” and in particular threatening stability in the region. She also pointed to the fact that she calls into question international nuclear non-proliferation efforts.