The French government reacted angrily to the announcement that Australia would exchange France by the United States on a contract to build nuclear submarines.
It was also left to the administration of US President Joe Biden, who was compared to his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump. “What worries me is also American behavior. This unilateral, brutal, unpredictable decision looks a lot like what he used to do Trump.”
In Wednesday’s release, Biden had mentioned France as a “key partner and ally” in the region, but Le Drian says the announcement is a betrayal after months of talks about joint action. Officials reported to international agencies that they had discovered the new deal in the press.
Furious, the French canceled a gala event that would commemorate this Friday the help of the country’s navy in the 1781 battle for American independence, as reported by The New York Times. France’s top naval officer, who had traveled to Washington for the festivities, anticipated his return to Paris.
The new partnership with the US and the UK means the cancellation of a contract signed by Australia with France in 2016, which would reach US$ 90 billion (R$ 475 billion, at current exchange rates), according to the country’s media. But it is mainly a blow to French ambitions to strengthen its presence in the Indo-Pacific region, the scene of territorial disputes —among others— involving the China.
The Asian country, by the way, which had already criticized the partnership —in a statement from the embassy in Washington that cited her “Cold War mentality”—, returned to the charge. On Thursday, a spokesman for the chancellery said that the announcement jeopardizes peace and stability in the region, intensifying an arms race. “Regional cooperation mechanisms should not target a third party,” he said.
The French Navy is the only one, among the countries of the European Union (EU), with a relevant presence in the Indo-Pacific region, where its overseas territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia are located, with 2 million French citizens.
EU diplomacy also complained about the way the decision was taken and announced. “We weren’t even consulted. As a top security representative, I didn’t know and I assume that an agreement of this nature was not made overnight,” said the bloc’s head of Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell.
According to him, the incident should awaken EU members to the need to employ means and political action to assume a relevant geopolitical role. “Europe needs to exist by itself, because others exist by themselves.”
The episode aggravates tensions in the relationship between Europeans and Americans, a trend that had already existed since the Trump administration and which, under Biden, gained layers amidst the disastrous operation to withdraw Western troops from Afghanistan, completed last month.
The unilateral decision of the American to fulfill the commitment made by his predecessor to leave the country of Central Asia, came to screams of british politicians because of the chaos scenes in Kabul and the Biden’s kick on the deadline for withdrawal — with G7 leaders, who pleaded to extend the deadline, being forced to acquiesce in a meeting.
After the European statements on Thursday, American and Australian authorities tried to put a warm touch to the situation. In Washington, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, responsible for US diplomacy, called France a vital ally, not just in the Indo-Pacific.
Next week, the United States will chair for the first time a face-to-face meeting of the heads of state of the Quad, a group that also includes Japan, India and Australia and seeks strategically surround China and its outlets to the sea.
While criticizing the isolated action of the Americans and British in the announcement of partnership with Australia, the representative of the European bloc said that the episode should not provoke a crisis in relations between the US and the EU: “Let’s not dramatize. We would have liked to have been warned, we regret not being part of this, but there is no reason to question our relationship with the US, which has improved a lot recently.”
EU launches Indo-Pacific plan ‘without confronting China’
The tripartite alliance ended up overshadowing the announcement made, also on Thursday, of a EU strategic plan for operations in the Indo-Pacific, which, among other things, includes the implementation of a trade agreement with Australia. Borrell said that treaty negotiations would not be affected by the breach of contract with France. “Let’s not mix things up. The agreements will go their way.”
The European plans for South and Southeast Asia are described by analysts as a way to contain the growing influence of China, but the EU representative preferred to emphasize that it is a “cooperation strategy, not confrontation”.
The military arm of the program is named penultimate among nine actions presented by the European Commission: the bloc intends to “explore ways to guarantee naval deployments reinforced by EU member states to help protect maritime lines of communication and freedom of navigation in the Indus -Pacific, while increasing the capacity of partners in the Indo-Pacific to ensure maritime security”.
A military rapprochement with countries that resist Chinese territorial ambitions “will be looked down upon by some,” Borrell said, though he insists that the goal is not to counter the Asian giant. “It’s a delicate balance in relationships, which won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be seen as a confrontation.”
In addition to trade agreements with Australia, Indonesia and New Zealand, negotiations are proposed to resume with India and a possible start of trade talks with Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.
According to Borrell, one of the main focuses is climate diplomacy — the European Union intends to invest in renewable energy in the bloc’s poorest countries and in May this year signed a partnership with Japan for actions to combat climate change.
With the most developed nations, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, the EU wants to make digital and technological standardization partnerships, in addition to increasing connectivity with India.
The European Union is today the largest investor in the region, with amounts that double the US investments, the main partner for development cooperation and one of the main trading partners. Together, Europe and the Indo-Pacific account for over 70% of global trade in goods and services and over 60% of foreign direct investment flows.