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By Maegan Vazquez, CNN
The French government says it was betrayed when Australia pulled out of its existing multi-billion dollar defense deal and instead agreed to acquire nuclear submarines through a new deal with the United States and the United Kingdom.
The effort to equip Australia with nuclear submarines – a major step in the fight against China as President Joe Biden works to build international support for his approach to Beijing – is part of a new trilateral partnership between the United States, Australia and the United States Kingdom. Called “AUKUS”.
Senior French officials said the AUKUS deal was a slap in the back and a move that “shows a lack of coherence”.
And they were so angry that they even held an upcoming reception at the French Embassy in Washington, DC, and toned down the celebrations to commemorate a French Revolutionary War naval victory that helped the United States achieve independence.
Why is France so angry about the trilateral agreement?
France is losing the equivalent of 65 billion US dollars through an existing deal to supply Australia with conventional, diesel-powered submarines.
The broken deal with France, a major global arms exporter, is expected to have a significant economic impact on the French defense sector. France also threatens to lose strategically in the Indo-Pacific, where the country has significant interests.
On Thursday, following the announcement of the US and UK nuclear submarine deal, Australia officially announced that it would withdraw from its previous conventional submarine contract with France.
The deal with Paris had been in the works for years.
Australia previously planned to acquire 12 conventional attack class submarines from the French shipyard Naval Group, which successfully prevailed against competing German and Japanese offers in 2016.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he was “angry and bitter” about Australia’s new submarine deal.
“It’s not done between allies. It really is a stab in the back, ”he added.
The French foreign minister also had strong words for the US: “This brutal and unilateral decision is very similar to what Trump is doing.”
Le Drian also released a joint statement on Wednesday with French Army Minister Florence Parly, which reads: “The American decision to exclude a European ally and partner like France from a structuring partnership with Australia at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, be it in terms of our values or in terms of respect for the rule of law multilateralism, shows a lack of coherence that France can only see and regret. “
Le Drian said Australia’s decision to withdraw from the agreement with France was “contrary to the letter and spirit of cooperation that prevailed between France and Australia,” but Australia has claimed that there were parts of its treaty that enabled it to to get out of the agreement.
The US decision to knock out one of its strongest allies, France, comes as a jockey of world powers for power in the Indo-Pacific – largely against the threat posed by China.
AUKUS also announced the day before the European Union was due to present its eagerly awaited strategy for the Indo-Pacific.
In the joint statement with Le Drian, France was described as “the only European nation present in the Indo-Pacific, with almost two million citizens and more than 7,000 military personnel” and confirmed that France is a “reliable partner who will continue to fulfill its commitments”. as always. “Australia’s decision” reinforces the need to make the question of Europe’s strategic autonomy loud and clear “.
The submarine deal also follows the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, leading to criticism from NATO allies.
Australia and the USA see it differently
The Americans and Australians have hinted that the French government was not taken by surprise by the repeal of the original treaty, saying high-ranking French officials had been made aware of the decision by the Australian government.
“This has been forwarded straight to the President, straight to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday.
Morrison said at his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in late June: “I made it very clear – we had a long dinner there in Paris – about our very serious concerns about the ability of conventional submarines to cope with the new strategic environment we are facing. And I’ve made it very clear that this is a matter that Australia must decide in our national interest. “
Australia’s Defense Secretary Peter Dutton said in a press conference on Thursday that the decision to prefer the American nuclear submarine to France’s conventional diesel submarine is “in the best interests of our national security.”
Dutton argued that “the French have a version that was not superior to the version operated by the United States, the United Kingdom. And in the end, the decision we made is based on what is in the best interests of our national security. “
Foreign Minister Antony Blinken also tried to downplay the US-France divide, stressing the importance of Paris as a “vital partner” in the Indo-Pacific and around the world.
“I would like to emphasize that there is no regional divide that separates the interests of our Atlantic and Pacific partners,” said Blinken on Thursday in the State Department.
Blinken said the US welcomes “European countries that play an important role in the Indo-Pacific”. to deepen our transatlantic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and worldwide. “
The CNN Wire
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CNN’s Angus Watson and Sugam Pokharel contributed to this report.