Singapore France pointedly omitted Australia when laying out its Indo-Pacific Strategy. This comes as France’s fury simmers over the tearing up of a $90 Billion submarine deal and President Emmanuel Macron’s claim that Scott Morrison, Prime Minister, lied to him.
Paris seeks to improve relations in the region, after relations with Morrison’s government collapsed. On Wednesday, France turned its attention towards Indonesia with Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, visiting Jakarta to meet with President Joko Widodo as well as other Indonesian ministers.
France is looking to strengthen its relations with South-east Asia’s largest country, but the poor state of affairs between Australia and Europe has only gotten worse.
Le Drian, a French diplomat, said Wednesday night in Jakarta that France felt “cheated” by Australia regarding the formation of AUKUS. This will allow Canberra to acquire a fleet nuclear-powered submarines instead of the Attack-class vessels it was planning to purchase from France.
“Within NATO the United States and United Kingdom are our allies. Australia is not part of NATO. “But they are historically our allies and have acted behind us on strategic and military matters,” he stated during a visit to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
“This is a trust crisis. It was a form of betrayal, my first comment. “The second is a crisis in trust between historical partners. This is even more concerning.”
The French foreign ministry released a video of two minutes that listed several countries in the region and outlined its vision for the Indo-Pacific, as France prepares for the European Union presidency. Australia was not included in the video.
Anne-Claire Legendre (Le Drian’s spokeswoman) stated in the clip that “our goal is simple: To maintain a free space where the law is imposed upon all and to refuse politics of hegemony and of systematic confrontation which ends up being an obstacle for our ability to find common solutions.”
“We share this vision in the region with our partners. There are many partners, including Japan and India, as well as newer ones like Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and New Zealand. ASEAN is a grouping of 10 countries in south-east Asia.
Le Drian also spoke with Le Monde in France before flying to Jakarta, saying that although “trust” was being reestablished with the US, it was not the same with Australia.
He told Le Monde that things have not changed with Australia and that the Prime Minister is dragging his feet with denials and contradictions.
The row escalated at Rome’s G20 after Macron was asked by The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Age if he believed Morrison had lied about Australia’s cancellation.
Macron replied, “I don’t think, but I know”.
This was an assertion Morrison denied. He pointed to text messages that he had exchanged with the French leader as proof that Macron knew that the Australian government was considering alternative submarine options. The leak of the messages did not help the matter. Jean Pierre Thebaul, France’s ambassador in Australia, called it “an unprecedented new level in terms of privacy and also in terms truth and trust”.
Le Drian stated Wednesday night that the French government learned about AUKUS’s submarine plans from Australia and Australia only through a press conference held by Morrison, Joe Biden, and Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister.
He said, “It just happened out of the blue.” It’s incorrect.
He suggested that AUKUS be established and the rhetoric around it could lead to a confrontation. He also questioned the transfer Australia of nuclear technology under the agreement with the US and UK who are two of five permanent members of United Nations Security Council.
He stated that “Until now, none of these five nations transferred to any other country nuclear technology to fuel submarines.” “So, if Australia tomorrow has nuclear-powered submarines why not other countries?” Why not Indonesia?
“This technology is not covered under the [nuclear weapon] non-proliferation Treaty. It is nevertheless a concern.
Le Drian’s visit to south-east Asia was made with France and Indonesia in order to discuss the sale of 36 Rafale fighter planes to Jakarta. Before meeting with Prabowo Subianto, the Indonesia Defense Minister, he spoke on Wednesday with Retno Marsudi. They signed a five year plan of action and agreed that they would begin 2+2 meetings between foreign and defense ministers starting next year.
Le Drian, in a joint press conference with Retno, stated that France wants to strengthen defense and maritime cooperation with Indonesia.
Le Drian stated, “It’s a relationship that is solidarity and cooperation in the contextof the upheavals that we see all over the world.”
He announced that Paris would invest EUR500 million ($780million) in Indonesia’s transition towards renewable energy sources.
Ben Bland, director of the Lowy Institute’s south-east Asia program said that France was keen to demonstrate its commitment to the region, despite Australia’s decline in relations.
He stated that “In the medium-term, once French anger about the aborted submarine programme subsides it is in both France and Australia’s best interests to cooperate in the Indo-Pacific, which both countries have much at risk,”
“From Indonesia’s point of view, it is open to working with partners that will help it achieve its strategic and economic goals.”
While in Jakarta, Le Drian also met with ASEAN Secretary General Dato Lim Jock Hoi.
In 2022, Indonesia will assume the presidency of G20.