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Australia “regrets” the recall of the French ambassador as the Aukus fallout was planned for last year | Asia Pacific

Australia has said it “takes note with regret” of France’s extraordinary decision to recall its ambassador for the cancellation of a submarine contract – part of the Aukus military deal which, according to experts, could damage relationships for years and have serious wider consequences.

A spokeswoman for Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said: “Australia understands France’s deep disappointment with our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests.

“Australia values ​​its relationship with France, which is an important partner and an essential contributor to stability, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. It won’t change.

The spokesperson said Australia and France share many issues of interest and “we look forward to re-engaging with France”.

However, observers said France’s decision to recall its ambassadors to Australia and the United States was proof of the depth of the stigma felt by the European power, an anger exacerbated by the clandestine and awkward treatment of the ‘announcement.

It would likely be the first in a series of protests in Paris.

As the centerpiece of a new “Aukus” security pact between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, dramatically announced this week, Australia will acquire nuclear submarines using the technology. American, unilaterally tearing up a $ 90 billion contract with France to build 12 conventional submarines. motorized submarines.

The new alliance aims to counter China’s growing military presence and influence in the Pacific, but it infuriated the French, who received almost no warning and called the move “a stab in the eye.” back”.

Recalling the ambassadors, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian declared that the new agreement, and France’s abandonment, was “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners – the consequences of which affect the very conception we have of our alliances, our partnerships and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe ”.

The recalled ambassador, Jean-Pierre Thebault, said that France had been “deliberately kept in the dark” about Australia’s change of plan, and that the decision to abandon the agreement with the Naval group was a “breach of trust”.

Hervé Lemahieu, research director at the Lowy Institute, told the Guardian that while the Australian submarine deal with the French state naval group had been hampered by delays, cost overruns and “misaligned expectations “, The mode of abandonment was” deeply humiliating. in France”.

“It was much more than a simple trade agreement, it was France’s flagship project in the Indo-Pacific. And the nature of the agreement – an Anglospheric trilateral partnership – and the way it was concluded, where it seems the French were not consulted, has been deeply humiliating for France, ”he said. .

Aukus’ announcement could also have wider immediate ramifications.

“We are conducting trade negotiations with Australia,” French Minister of European Affairs Clément Beaune told France 24, referring to ongoing talks on an Australia-EU free trade agreement. “I don’t see how we can trust our Australian partners.

France and the United States have had significant diplomatic differences before, most notably during the Suez Crisis in 1956 and the Iraq War in 2003, although neither of these resulted in the withdrawal of ambassadors.

Lemahieu said: “The offense is more keenly felt in Australia, especially given the energy of the multiple presidents, and in particular, [Emmanuel] Macron, devoted himself to it.

It may take years for relations between France and Australia to stabilize.

“The French have long memories,” said Lemahieu. “France must however be careful not to overplay its hand. Their anger is legitimate and understandable but should not be allowed to take control. But even once relationships are normalized, it will leave a lasting legacy, an element of trust has probably been irretrievably lost. “

Paris sees itself as an important power in the Indo-Pacific, with Pacific territories such as New Caledonia and French Polynesia giving it a strategic and military base unmatched by any other European country.

“If Australia can alienate itself as the main proponent of an EU Indo-Pacific strategy, what hope do we have of convincing Indonesia or other regional middle powers of the concept’s inclusiveness? Said Lemahieu.

Indonesia has already expressed concern over Australia’s decision, saying it “is deeply concerned about the continuing arms race and the projection of power in the region.”

Professor John Blaxland, senior researcher at the Center for Strategic and Defense Studies at the College of Asia and the Pacific, ANU, said Australia must work to restore relations with France.

“We probably owe them around $ 3 billion in penalties for the broken deal,” he told the ABC, and suggested Australia could offer to lease some of its submarines to France. Barracuda to fill the capacity gap before the arrival of new nuclear submarines.

“Let’s do something creative and mend the bridges with France. Let us not forget that France is a peaceful power in the Pacific. It has French territories not only in New Caledonia, but in Tahiti and in the Indian Ocean. So we have to make this relationship work and it is in our best interest to make it work.

Jean-Pierre Thébault, the French ambassador to Australia, and Philippe Etienne, his counterpart in Washington, will be back in Paris for “consultations”, France announced on Friday evening. France has not recalled its ambassador to the United Kingdom.

The withdrawal of ambassadors, generally an action of last resort between countries during a crisis, and an extremely rare action between allies.

Australian Senate Opposition Leader Penny Wong said on Saturday: “This is not the first time [Australian prime minister Scott] Morrison either caught an international partner off guard or failed to do diplomatic work before an announcement.

“The Morrison-Joyce government must describe the steps it is taking to repair this important relationship.”

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