Macron Sure Looks Stupid Now for Having Picked a Fight With China on America’s and Australia’s Behalf
"Macron has more than reasonable grounds to feel angry and deceived"
As far as slaps across the face go, they don’t come much bigger than this. And the giant backhander Australia just delivered France and its President, Emmanuel Macron, is bound to be repaid in kind.
Just as Prime Minister Scott Morrison can point to legitimate reasons for axing a $90 billion contract for the French to help build Australia’s new submarine fleet, Macron has more than reasonable grounds to feel angry and deceived.
To say the French are seething over the surprise new defence pact between Australia, the United States and United Kingdom would be an understatement. Overnight, Paris has gone from viewing Australia as a friend and ally to a nation which can’t be trusted.
“This decision is contrary to the letter and spirit of the co-operation that prevailed between France and Australia,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said in a joint-statement.
The switch “marks an absence of coherence that France can only observe and regret”, the pair added.
Macron had invested serious political capital in turning the submarine contract into something more enduring. In 2018 he stood on a warship at Garden Island military base in Sydney and pledged a new era of French involvement in the Indo-Pacific — something the Coalition had wanted for years and welcomed with open arms.
As recently as June this year, he stuck up for Australia in its worsening tussle with China. Standing next to Morrison in the Elysee Palace courtyard, Macron said France was committed to “defending the balance in the Indo-Pacific region” and stressed “how much we consider the partnership we have with Australia to be at the heart of this Indo-Pacific strategy”.
What Macron didn’t know was that four days earlier, Morrison had used a meeting with US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the G7 summit in Cornwall, England, to discuss a secret plan to ditch the French submarines and replace them with a nuclear-powered fleet using US and UK technology.
Morrison’s rationale was not that the trouble-plagued French shipbuilder Naval Group would fail to deliver on time or on budget but that the growing threat from China meant the program needed the added heft of the US military.
The Australian Prime Minister told Macron at that Elysee Palace meeting, and in the days after, that Australia was considering its options. But he did not tell Macron about the plan being developed in secret with the US and UK.
For reasons yet to be explained, Morrison and Macron did not speak over the phone this week despite the momentous news. And in a joint televised address with Biden and Johnson, Morrison did not once mention France. It fell to Biden to insist France was still a key ally in the region.
“We’ve been reckless and callous with a very sensitive power who was getting closer to us,” says one senior figure involved in the Australia-France relationship. “This will hurt us. We will be cut-price in Europe.”
The problem for Morrison is that he has dudded Macron just as the President takes over from retiring German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the de-facto leader of Europe. Australia hasn’t just picked a fight with France but also the European Union. The relationship was already rocky after the EU blocked the shipment of millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Australia earlier this year.
How will France respond? The first step might be to reassess the extent of its involvement in the Indo-Pacific. Observers believe Thursday’s announcement will also imperil negotiations for a free-trade agreement between Australia and the EU, a high-income market of almost 450 million people with a GDP of around $US15 trillion ($20 trillion).
“Everyone in Paris is shell shocked,” says Benjamin Haddad, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Europe Centre. Haddad predicted the announcement represented the lowest point in US-France relations since 2003, when Paris openly criticised Washington for invading Iraq.
Gérard Araud, a former French ambassador to the US, put it this way: “The world is a jungle. France has just been reminded of this bitter truth by the way the US and the UK have stabbed her in the back in Australia.”
All sides are calculating that the long-term benefits of closer defence ties between Australia, the UK and US outweigh the medium-term damage inflicted on their relationship with France.
But Macron is going nowhere in a hurry. And he will have a very long memory.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald