Australia defends cancellation of French submarine deal

Australia on Sunday defended its decision to abandon a multibillion-dollar order for French submarines and opt instead for an alternative deal with the United States and Britain, saying it had informed Paris of its concerns months ago.

Canberra’s move infuriated Paris, causing an unprecedented diplomatic crisis that analysts say could do lasting damage to the United States’ alliances with France and Europe. It angered China, the main rising power in the Indo-Pacific region.

The United States has sought to quell anger in France, a NATO ally, and a French government spokesman said on Sunday that President Emmanuel Macron would call US President Joe Biden “in the next few days”. Paris recalled its envoys to Washington and Canberra for consultations.

“I have no regrets about the decision to put Australia’s national interest first,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday.

Mr Morrison said he understood France’s disappointment over the cancellation of the order, which was worth $40 billion in 2016 and estimated to cost much more today, but reiterated that Australia must always make decisions in its best interests.

“This is an issue that I raised directly a few months ago and we have continued to talk about these issues through, including by the defense ministers and others,” he told a news briefing.

Under its new trilateral security partnership, Australia will build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines using US and British technology. The canceled deal, concluded with France’s Naval Group in 2016, was for a fleet of conventional submarines.

The Tripartite New Deal has cast doubt on the united front that Biden seeks to forge against the growing power of China.

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French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told BFM television that Macron would seek “clarification” of the cancellation in his call with Biden. Hence discussions have to take place on the terms of the contract, particularly compensation for the French side.

EU leaders are sure to discuss the issue in talks in Slovenia on October 5, an EU diplomat said, saying that raised questions about the transatlantic relationship and Europe’s geopolitical ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region.

“I think the French . . . are reluctant to weaken security ties with the United States,” the diplomat said, referring to Macron’s long-standing support for greater European strategic autonomy, even though many EU countries are reluctant.

Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said Canberra was “frank, open and honest” with France about its concerns. He declined to reveal the costs of the new agreement, saying only that “it wouldn’t be a cheap project.”

Newly appointed British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in an article published on Sunday that Britain’s role in the tripartite partnership shows its willingness to be “resolute” in defending its interests after Brexit.

She said it also demonstrated Britain’s commitment to security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. – Reuters

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