US move to dislodge France from Australia submarine deal is incoherent: French ministers

PARIS (REUTERS) – The United States’ decision to push France aside from a deal it had signed with Australia to procure submarines shows a lack of coherence at a time the two allies are facing common challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, France said on Thursday (Sept 16).

The United States, Britain and Australia said earlier they would establish a security partnership for the Indo-Pacific that will involve helping Australia acquire US nuclear-powered submarines and scrap a multi-billion dollar French-designed submarines deal.

“The American choice to push aside a European ally and partner like France from a structural partnership with Australia at a time we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region … shows a lack of coherence that France can only acknowledge and regret,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defense Minister Florence Parly said in a joint statement.

Australia in 2016 selected French shipbuilder Naval Group to build a new submarine fleet worth US$40 billion (S$53.6 billion) to replace its more than two-decades-old Collins submarines.

It has been one of the world’s most lucrative defence deals, but has been beset by issues and delays due to Canberra’s requirement that the majority of the manufacturing and components be sourced locally.

The French foreign and defence ministers also said in a statement that Australia’s decision to renege on the contract went against the spirit of cooperation between the two countries.

They added that this move only but strengthened the need for Europe to reach strategic autonomy. “There is no other credible way to defend our interests and values around the world, including in the Indo-Pacific region,” they said.

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