Macron says submarine cooperation offer with Australia still ‘on the table’


French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that an offer to cooperate with Australia on submarines still stands, after a bitter row over a canceled contract last year threatened to torpedo relations.

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Macron was furious when former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison abruptly scrapped a contract for France to build a dozen diesel-powered submarines and announced a deal to buy American or British nuclear-powered submarines.

The row derailed relations and threatened to sink an EU-Australia trade deal, but the two sides have reconciled since Prime Minister Anthony Albanese took power in Canberra.

Delivery of the new nuclear submarines could take years, potentially leaving Australia short of capabilities at a time when China is increasing its assertiveness in the region.

Speaking in Bangkok a day after meeting Albanese on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Indonesia, Macron said the French offer “remains on the table”.

He said France would not supply nuclear submarines to foreign countries, so the offer was for conventional vessels only. He added that it would guarantee Canberra’s “freedom and sovereignty”, noting that construction would take place in Australia.

“We will now see how they adapt to the difficulties (they face),” Macron said.

“There is a fundamental choice, which is to know whether they produce submarines in their own country or rely on another – whether they go nuclear or not.”

China is worried

Albanese hailed a fresh start in ties during a visit to Paris in July, stressing that he would act with “trust, respect and honesty” in his dealings with Macron.

That meeting came after Australia agreed a massive compensation deal with French submarine builder Naval Group to end the contract.

The 555 million euro ($584 million) settlement drew a line under the spat and was hailed by Albanese as “fair and just”. The original contract was worth an estimated €33 billion at the time.

The submarine line came as part of a new security pact between Australia, Britain and the US called AUKUS aimed at countering a rising China.

France considers itself a Pacific power, thanks to its overseas territories including New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

But while it shares Australia’s concerns about China’s assertiveness, it has been keen to craft its own strategy for the region.

Macron is attending an APEC summit in Bangkok and on Friday he will deliver a speech as he seeks to resume his Indo-Pacific policy after the AUKUS humiliation.

“In this highly contested region, which is the theater of a confrontation between the two great world powers, our strategy is to defend freedom and sovereignty,” Macron said on Thursday.

The APEC meeting comes hot on the heels of a G20 summit in Bali where Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Joe Biden held key talks aimed at easing tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

(AFP)

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