U.S. struggles to contain French anger 

September 18, 2021 - 11:3

TEHRAN- As France furiously protests Australia's scrapping of a major arms deal in favor of American nuclear submarines, Washington is struggling to contain the fallout from Paris. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had prioritized building ties with Europe, said he considered France "a vital partner" and saw no "regional divide" between Atlantic and Pacific allies.

Blinken told reporters "we want to find every opportunity now to deepen transatlantic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and around the world"

But the French hit back accusing U.S. President Joe Biden, in whom Paris placed high hopes, of being no different than his "America First" predecessor Donald Trump.

French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, says he is "very angry" over the loss of what he once called "the contract of the century," which was worth 31 billion Euros, ($36.5 billion) when signed in 2016. 

Le Drian told French media "this unilateral, sudden and unforeseeable decision very much recalls what Trump would do”. And on Australia, Le Drian says "It's really a stab in the back. We had established a relationship of trust with Australia. This trust has been betrayed."

He also called the U.S. move a "huge breach of trust" at a time when France was working with Washington on coordinating Asia policy. 

French Defense Minister Florence Parly says that Australia's about-face demonstrated the growing need for Europeans to bolster their own "strategic autonomy."
"In terms of geopolitics and international relations, it's serious”.

Biden has unveiled a new three-way alliance among the United States, Australia, and Britain that features the submarines, a key asset Washington supposedly views will challenge China in the decades to come. 

It is a setback for the French president, Emmanuel Macron, not just in financial terms but also to French diplomacy, which had worked for years to secure the partnership with Australia and strengthen its strategic presence in the Indo-Pacific region.

During a meeting in Washington with his Australian counterpart, Biden says that the U.S. has been in contact with France over "the last 24-48 hours" to discuss the row.

However, a French embassy spokesman, says the contact came only after news had begun to leak in the media.

The French embassy in Washington also says it was scaling back commemorations of France's role in a decisive American Revolution naval battle, with a ceremony at the ambassador's residence canceled.

The move by the U.S., UK and Australia in the Indo-Pacific underscores increasing concerns in France where Paris is also looking to protect its interests. These include the overseas territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia. France is the only European country with a presence in the region, with nearly 2 million French citizens and more than 7,000 troops.

Despite the French anger, the submarine contract has been proving increasingly contentious in Australia in part due to cost overruns. Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton says the country's existing submarines would only provide an edge into the 2040s and that military chiefs recommended switching to nuclear-powered versions.

Dutton says "in the end the decision that we have made is based on what is in the best interest of our national security”, calling France's offer "not superior" to the nuclear submarines operated by the United States and Britain.

Australia will become only the second nation after Britain to access U.S. nuclear technology for the submarines. Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier said that Australia would acquire long-range U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The Australian PM says the new alliance, announced after more than 18 months of discussions with the United States and Britain, will be permanent.

Australia has also come under intense diplomatic and commercial pressure from China, the key market for its agricultural and mineral exports, over its close alliance with the United States.

Morrison will travel next week to Washington for the first in-person four-way "Quad" summit with U.S., Japanese and Indian leaders. 

Biden has identified the rise of China as the top U.S. challenge of the 21st century and reoriented U.S. foreign policy around it.

He unveiled the new Australia-U.S.-Britain defense alliance this week, as not just extending nuclear submarine technology to Australia, but also cooperation in cyber defense, applied artificial intelligence, and undersea capabilities.

Last month the American President withdrew the remaining troops from Afghanistan after 20 years, calling the war a distraction from the “bigger picture”.

China's government described the U.S.-UK, Australian 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".

China accused the U.S. of setting off an arms race. At the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, China's envoy Wang Qun called the three-way to move a "sheer act of nuclear proliferation”. 

The Chinese embassy in Australia has also rejected "unfounded accusations" against Beijing made by the Defense and Foreign ministers of Australia and their U.S. counterparts after annual talks in Washington. 

The embassy dismissed allegations by the U.S. and Australia about China’s internal affairs as a futile pressure tactic saying "this petty move to put pressure on China will be of no avail but a staged farce”. The embassy added "we firmly oppose and reject the unfounded accusations and erroneous remarks against China on issues related to the South China Sea, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other China-related issues."

Critics accuse the White House of spreading disinformation about China’s internal affairs. For example, Washington claims Beijing is mistreating Muslims in China’s Xinjiang eastern province. Whereas China has actually taken security measures to protect itself from any terrorist threats as many Chinese Uighurs had returned to Xinjiang from Iraq and Syria after the collapse of Daesh. 

Critics say it is a classic example of double standards as Washington consistently focuses on Chinese Muslims, but stays silent on Muslims being terrorized elsewhere like in Palestine, Yemen, Kashmir, Nigeria, or even Muslim human rights violations among America’s ruling allies in West Asia. 

Analysts say the issue revolves around China’s growing economic power, which is expected to overtake that of the United States and there are believed to be more Mosques in China’s Xinjiang province than the entire United States. 

The reality is, Washington’s public concerns has nothing to do with Muslims.

Leave a Comment

1 + 9 =