After an incident involving two French submarines, France has decided to withdraw their ambassador from Australia after diplomatic ties were severed. While the decision is certainly puzzling, it does not seem like this will change anything soon.
As the allies tried to repair a significant breach created when Canberra canceled a lucrative French submarine contract in order to join a new security pact with the United States and the United Kingdom, France announced it would send its ambassador back to Australia.
Following the news of the new AUKUS cooperation, which would see Australia acquire US nuclear-powered submarine technology in place of an existing order for French submarines with diesel engines, France recalled its diplomats to Washington and Canberra last month.
Philippe Etienne, France’s ambassador to the United States, returned to Washington in late September.
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The imminent return of French Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault was hailed by Australian authorities on Thursday as a step toward mending relations. Mr. Thebault’s mandate, according to French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, is to help reformulate France’s relationship with Australia while also ensuring French interests are protected in the cancellation of the multibillion-dollar submarine deal, which he had previously described as a “stab in the back.”
According to Herve Lemahieu, research director at Australia’s Lowy Institute, an international policy think tank, France will seek to maximize its payment from the canceled deal while still maintaining relations with Australia in the Indo-Pacific.
Mr. Lemahieu said, “As sincere as their opposition to AUKUS is, it is also a bargaining tactic for maximum concessions as a prerequisite for restoring bilateral relations.”
In the Indo-Pacific, France views itself as a maritime force. New Caledonia, a French island group in the Pacific, is home to a significant military installation.
In December, voters will have the opportunity to vote in an independence referendum. Independence was rejected in referendums conducted in 2018 and 2020, putting Australia and France at danger, according to security experts, as China tries to expand its own influence in the area.
On Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed his delight that the ambassador will return, but downplayed the possibility of additional compromises to maintain good ties.
In September, Mr. Thebault was seen at Sydney Airport.
Associated Press photo/David Gray
He told reporters, “It’s not a question of what extra things we’re adding on our collaboration.” “The connection between Australia and France is much more than a contract.” They’ve had a long-standing commitment [in the Indo-Pacific] and collaborate with Australia on a variety of topics.”
Mr. Morrison has argued that the French deal’s nonnuclear submarines aren’t adequate to the task of confronting China’s increasing aggressiveness in the Pacific. Officials from France claim that Australia never requested them to consider providing nuclear-powered submarines, which are part of their arsenal.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited with French officials on Tuesday, including Mr. Le Drian, in an attempt to mend fences with America’s oldest friend. Promises to expand collaboration were made during the sessions, but no concrete pledges were made.
During a trip to Paris, Australia’s trade minister attempted to meet with his French colleague but was unable to do so, according to an Australian trade department spokeswoman.
Rhiannon Hoyle can be reached at [email protected]
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