Macron accuses Australia of joining ‘nuclear confrontation’ against China

Emmanuel Macron
France’s President Emmanuel Macron attends the APEC Leaders’ Informal Dialogue with Guests during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Bangkok, Thailand Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. (Athit Perawongmetha/Pool Photo via AP) ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA/AP

Macron accuses Australia of joining ‘nuclear confrontation’ against China

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French President Emmanuel Macron warned Indo-Pacific leaders against a strict alignment with the United States in “confrontation” with China, while airing his grievance over Australia’s decision last year to purchase American nuclear submarines rather than French boats.

“We don’t believe in hegemony, we don’t believe in confrontation, we believe in stability,” Macron told the Asai Pacific Economic Forum in Bangkok. “We are in the jungle and we have two big elephants, trying to become more and more nervous … If they become very nervous and start war it will be a big problem for the rest of the jungle. You need cooperation of a lot of other animals: tigers, monkeys, and so on.”

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The French leader’s remarks made for a marked divergence with the U.S. posture at the forum, as Vice President Kamala Harris touted “our unrivaled network of global alliances and partnerships” as bulwark of economic and military security in the Indo-Pacific. Macron argued instead for regional leaders to follow the French example in trying “to provide dynamic balance” between Washington and Beijing — a strategic priority that created a framework for his denunciation of Australia’s cancelation last year of a contract to purchase French diesel-powered submarines.

“But the choice made by [Australia] was the opposite, re-entering into nuclear confrontation, making himself completely dependent by deciding to equip themselves [with a] submarine fleet that the Australians are incapable of producing and maintaining in-house,” Macron told reporters, per the Telegraph.

He argued that Australia’s original plan to purchase French submarines was “not confrontational to China because they are not nuclear-powered submarines.” The performance raises the prospect that Macron’s anger over AUKUS — as the trilateral nuclear deal involving Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom is known — could power a break with the wider U.S. effort to rally an “alliance of democracies” to counter threats from China.

“The Biden-Harris administration has also joined with allies and partners to uphold international rules and norms,” Harris said. “Our message is clear: The United States has an enduring economic commitment to the Indo-Pacific, one that is measured not in years, but in decades and generations. And there is no better economic partner for this region than the United States of America.”

The Biden team’s emphasis on coordination between allies in the Indo-Pacific has drawn opposition from both Russia and China, an autocratic pair that have a common goal of degrading U.S. and Western European power around the world.

“The United States, its allies, and the North Atlantic Alliance are attempting to “assimilate” this space,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on November 13. “A case in point in the context of this policy is the establishment of a military bloc, AUKUS, composed of the United States, Australia, and the U.K. Active attempts are being made to involve New Zealand, Canada, and Japan in it. Clandestine initiatives to organize surveillance of naval activities are being promoted. People, who understand what this is all about, directly link this with the West’s ‘need’ to turn the South China Sea into a zone of confrontation.”

China has asserted sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, which has long functioned as one of the most important international shipping lanes for global commerce, in defiance of an international tribunal that rejected their claim. Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping’s deployment of military assets to artificial islands in the South China Sea has enhanced the People’s Liberation Army’s ability to project power in the area, to the alarm of the U.S. and Australia.

“President Macron is entitled to put forward his views, as he does in a very forthright way. I also note as part of the interview, as well, that he noted that Australia has not decided to change their strategy on the subject,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters in Bangkok. “We are proceeding with the AUKUS arrangements, there’s nothing ambiguous about it. That is our position.”

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Australia has “a good co-operative relationship with France and we’ll continue to engage on ways in which France can assist Australia in the road map that we agreed on when we met in Paris, which is about defense and security, it’s about energy and the environment including dealing with climate change, and it’s about cultural advances as well,” he added.

Macron, for his part, offered other heads of state in the region a different road map. “Our Indo-Pacific strategy is how to provide dynamic balance in this environment,” Macron said. “How to provide precisely a sort of stability and equilibrium which could not be the hegemony of one of those, could not be the confrontation of the two major powers.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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