Submarine controversy: France recalls ambassadors from US and Australia

AFP News Agency

18th Sep, 2021. 11:50 am
France accuses Australia and US of ‘lying’ over cancelled submarine contract

France on Friday recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia for consultations in a ferocious row over the scrapping of a submarine contract, an unprecedented step that revealed the extent of French anger against its allies.

President Emmanuel Macron ordered the recalling of the envoys after Canberra ditched a deal to buy French submarines in favour of US vessels, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

Le Drian said in a statement that the decision was made to “immediately” recall the two French ambassadors due to “the exceptional seriousness of the announcements made on September 15 by Australia and the United States.”

The abandonment of the ocean-class submarine project that Australia and France had been working on since 2016 constituted “unacceptable behaviour among allies and partners,” the minister said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian: French ambassadors recalled due to the 'exceptional seriousness' of the situation
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian: French ambassadors recalled due to the ‘exceptional seriousness’ of the situation Attila KISBENEDEK AFP

“Their consequences affect the very concept we have of our alliances, our partnerships, and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe”

US President Joe Biden announced the new Australia-US-Britain defence alliance on Wednesday, extending US nuclear submarine technology to Australia as well as cyber defence, applied artificial intelligence and undersea capabilities.

The pact is widely seen as aimed at countering the rise of China.

The move infuriated France, which lost a contract to supply conventional submarines to Australia that was worth Aus$50 billion (31 billion euros, $36.5 billion) when signed in 2016.

The French ambassador recalls from the United States and Australia, key allies of France, are unprecedented.

France has made no effort to disguise its fury and on Thursday accused Australia of back-stabbing and Washington of Donald Trump-era behaviour over the submarines deal.

“It’s really a stab in the back,” Le Drian said Thursday. “We had established a relationship of trust with Australia, this trust has been betrayed”.

France has also called off a gala at its ambassador’s house in Washington scheduled for Friday.

The event was supposed to celebrate the anniversary of a decisive naval battle in the American Revolution, in which France played a key role.

– ‘Extremely irresponsible’ –

Australia earlier shrugged off Chinese anger over its decision to acquire US nuclear-powered submarines, while vowing to defend the rule of law in airspace and waters where Beijing has staked hotly-contested claims.

Beijing described the new alliance as an “extremely irresponsible” threat to regional stability, questioning Australia’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and warning the Western allies that they risked “shooting themselves in the foot”.

Graphic on nuclear submarines around the world.
Graphic on nuclear submarines around the world. John SAEKI AFP

China has its own “very substantive programme of nuclear submarine building”, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison argued Friday in an interview with radio station 2GB.

China claims almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in shipping trade passes annually, rejecting competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Beijing has been accused of deploying a range of military hardware including anti-ship missiles and surface-to-air missiles there and ignored a 2016 international tribunal decision that declared its historical claim over most of the waters to be without basis.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne in Washington on Thursday said she understood France's 'dsappointment'
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne in Washington on Thursday said she understood France’s ‘dsappointment’ Andrew Harnik POOL/AFP

France’s European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said Friday that Paris was unable to trust Canberra in ongoing European Union trade deal talks following the decision before the ambassadors were recalled.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, in Washington, said she understood the “disappointment” in Paris and hoped to work with France to ensure it understands “the value we place on the bilateral relationship and the work that we want to continue to do together”.

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