France and Australia are mending their disagreements after what some consider to be their deepest diplomatic rift since the two countries formed ties. A common history and a mutual enemy helped the Allies overcome a failed submarine deal.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will arrive in Paris on Friday to meet French President Emmanuel Macron. The day before, Albanian was in Madrid as a guest of NATO.
The military alliance added two members, Finland and Sweden, and concluded the three-day basin summit with the publication of its Strategic Concept for 2022, which for the first time identified China as a priority for the next decade.
The document warns of China’s “declared ambitions and coercive policies,” which the document says cast doubt on NATO’s “interests, security and values.”
It is also concerned about Beijing’s increasing “evil cyber operations” and the deepening of its strategic partnership with Russia.
After presenting the Strategic Concept, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “China is significantly building its armed forces, including nuclear weapons, plagues its neighbours, threatens Taiwan … monitors and controls its own citizens through advanced technology, and disseminates Russian lies and misinformation.”
Clarifying that China was “not our adversary,” Stoltenberg said the alliance needed to be “clear about the serious challenges” the country represented.
NATO’s feelings about China are shared by Australia. But Canberra, under former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, prioritized a closer strategic relationship with NATO members Britain and the US with the establishment of AUKUS in September 2021.
This came at the cost of a billion-dollar submarine deal with France, which was dumped, causing a rift between NATO partners.
Ambassadors were recalled, harsh words exchanged, but in the end it didn’t seem to matter that much.
After Albanian won the elections in May, he formed a new government and the skies quickly cleared. “We need to reset, we’ve already had very constructive discussions,” Albanian told ABC television in an interview last week.
Shortly after the election, Australia had agreed to pay French shipbuilder Naval Group, which had been defrauded by the cancellation of the submarine deal, €555 million in damages.
“France is of course central to power in Europe, but it is also a key power in the Pacific, including in our own region … the visit is a very concrete sign of the repair that has already been done,” Albanian added. †
Aside from a submarine incident, France and Australia have always been on good terms.
Diplomatic ties were established in 1842, the same year that the UK, then the dominant superpower of the time, began its “Opium Wars” against the Chinese Empire, laying the groundwork for many of the tensions that exist in the region today.
France and Australia worked together in the two world wars and were on the same side during the Cold War that followed.
The close relationship resulted in the joint statement in 2017 of “Enhanced Strategic Partnership between Australia and France”, involving a wide range of joint projects in the fields of defence, economics, infrastructure and energy.
An added incentive for good ties today is growing concern about the Indo-Pacific region, where both Australia and France (via the overseas territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia) have strategic and commercial interests.
There they also face a common enemy: the People’s Republic of China and its growing influence in the region.
During a visit by Macron in 2018, the growing relationship was summed up in a “vision statement” that mentioned France’s ill-fated involvement in Australia’s “Future Submarine Project”.
Albanian visit to see Macron on Friday shows that relations are returning to normal.
“France does have a military presence in the region,” Carlyle A Thayer, professor emeritus at the Australian Defense Force Academy, told RFI.
“Australia’s largest maritime border is with the French possessions in the Pacific Ocean.
“And if we turn back the clock and forget the cancellation of the submarine deal, the fact that it was given in the first place was the culmination of a convergence with France that reaffirmed its presence,” he says.
Originally published on RFI