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French Ambassador returns to Canberra in wake of submarine war

Politics

France will send its ambassador back to Australia after withdrawing when Canberra ditched a defence accord with Paris in favour of a tie-up with Britain and the United States.

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France accused its allies of stabbing it in the back when Australia opted for nuclear-powered submarines to be built with US and British technology instead of a multi-billion dollar French submarine program.

This was done under a new defence partnership between Australia, the UK and US, known as AUKUS, to counter Chinese military power in the Indo-Pacific.

Under the pact, Australia committed to buy US-designed submarines, pulling out of an existing supply deal with a French manufacturer.

But while France has sought to mend fences with Washington, it had frozen its contacts with Australia.

“I have now asked our ambassador to return to Canberra with two missions, to help redefine the terms of our relationship with Australia in the future … and to defend our interests in the concrete implementation of the Australian decision to end the program for future submarines,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday.

France had considered the partnership with Australia dating back to 2016 as the cornerstone of its Indo-Pacific policy.

French officials said they felt betrayed by Canberra which gave them no indication of what it was about to do, despite launching the plan to switch deals 18 months earlier.

Le Drian said Paris had completely reviewed its bilateral relationship with Australia given that the submarine deal had been part of that broader strategy.

“Starting afresh in our bilateral relations will not have any impact on our determination to remain engaged in the Pacific,” he said.

Australia has said it regretted the ambassador’s recall, and that it values the relationship with France and wants to keep engaging with Paris on issues including the Indo-Pacific.

Diplomats have said the crisis in confidence will need some strong acts from Canberra that would benefit French interests in the region.

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