On Friday (17 September), France recalled its Ambassadors to the United States (US) and Australia amidst a row over a submarine deal.
A row emerged after Canberra decided to scrap a submarine contract with France, buying US vessels instead. This meant abandonment of the ocean-class conventional submarine project that Australia and France had been working on for over four years. The deal was worth $36.5 billion when signed in 2016.
This came after US President Joe Biden announced the new Australia-US-Britain defence alliance on Wednesday, extending American nuclear submarine technology to Australia, apart from cyberdefence, applied artificial intelligence and undersea capabilities. The defence alliance is being seen as a counter to the rise of China.
In response to the scrapping of the deal, in an unprecedented step, President Emmanuel Macron recalled the envoys to US and Australia. Recalling the envoys is generally seen as a last resort diplomatic step between feuding countries - a behaviour highly unusual between allies. It most often follows a worsening of the relationship.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the decision was made to “immediately” recall the two French Ambassadors due to “the exceptional seriousness" of the announcements made on 15 September by Australia and the United States.
The minister went to the extent of bringing into question the collaboration for a free and open Indo-Pacific, indicating the fractures in US-Europe relationship that worsened in former US president Trump's reign. Le Drian accused Washington of "Donald Trump-era behaviour" over the submarines deal, and said that Australia had back-stabbed France.
Calling it “unacceptable behaviour among allies and partners”, the French minister said, "Their consequences affect the very concept we have of our alliances, our partnerships, and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe.”
After his recall, France Ambassador to the US Philippe Etienne said in a tweet:
“I am being recalled to Paris for consultations. This follows announcements directly affecting the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe.”
France is a major power in the Indo-Pacific due to overseas territories such as the Reunion islands, Mayotte, New Caledonia and French Polynesia which give it a strategic and military reach in the region.
The United States expressed “regret” over the French envoy’s recall, said that it understood France’s position and was in “close contact” with Paris to resolve the differences. The issues are slated to be discussed “at the senior level”, including at the United Nations General Assembly which both Le Drian and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will attend next week.
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