World News And General News On September 17, 2021 at 04:14PM Pan-African News Wire

So France is Furious: Now What?

By RYAN HEATH  09/17/2021 10:25 AM EDT

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Well that escalated quickly.

What was supposed to be a happy agreement to share cutting-edge tech among English-speaking democracies has sparked trans-Atlantic (and trans-Pacific) fury.

The lack of agreement among Western democracies on how to confront China — while not unduly pissing it off — is on full display.

Paris thinks the Biden administration is turning into Trump in sheep’s clothing: “unilateral, brutal, unpredictable” in the words of French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Getting caught up in those headlines is not very productive: So here’s a guide to separating fact and fiction around the defense partnership, and what happens next.

FACT: Australia has chosen the U.S. over China. In practice, Canberra has always been on the U.S. side, but it’s now definitively dropped the idea that it doesn’t have to choose sides between the world’s superpowers (watch this hilarious video about Aussie twisting and turning). Still missing: a rationale around why Canberra is happy to export record amounts of iron ore ($39 billion last year) to China, some of which goes towards steel for Chinese weapons.

FACT: France is furious — and has blind spots. You’d also be angry, too, if you found out via a POLITICO article (as the Élysée Palace did) that you were gazumped on a $60 billion submarine deal. But Australia was already angry with France before it finally ditched the agreement: partly because the cost of the deal had skyrocketed since it was signed in 2016; partly because the subs were going to arrive only in 2035; and also because they were conventional subs rather than nuclear-powered — not as good as the ones offered by Washington, or even the ones the French use themselves. Australia just wants to be the seventh country with a nuclear-powered submarine: after the U.S., U.K., China, Russia, India and France.

FACT: Other democracies want in on the deal, or support it, including India (which loves the idea of other bad cops on China patrol), and Canada’s Conservatives: party leader Erin O’Toole says if he wins Canada’s tight election race on Monday he will push to join AUKUS. I guess that would make it a CAUKUS. France also feels burned because it has territory and 300,000 citizens next door to Australia: in New Caledonia.

FACT: France is looking for compensation. “The cake is canceled” notes my Paris Playbook colleague Elisa Braun (what is it with French power brokers and cake?), but Paris is already making plans to collect a fat check from Canberra. “We’re studying all avenues” said Defense Minister Florence Parly.

FICTION: There’s permanent damage with France, which is cutting off American social ties for now, including the dramatic cancellation of a military gala marking the 240th anniversary of the Battle of the Capes that was to happen today at the French embassy in Washington. The gala is off, sure, but what’s still on today is an event at the embassy with retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a down-sized event is still going ahead on a French destroyer in Baltimore, and a third with a French submarine in Norfolk.

FICTION: Australia is now an undersea power. Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Hartcher points out: “as of Thursday, Australia has no (signed) agreement with anyone to build any new submarines whatsoever. China has 66 submarines. It’s expected to have 10 more by 2030, six of those nuclear powered, according to the US Office of Naval Intelligence. By that time, Australia will have exactly as many subs as it has today, which is the same number it had a quarter-century earlier” (six diesel-powered subs commissioned in the 1980s).

FICTION: China’s claim that the deal undermines regional stability. Nonsense! Beijing is lashing out, saying the subs deal “gravely undermines regional peace and stability, aggravates the arms race and hurts the international non-proliferation efforts.” While this week’s events are not going to help get the U.S. and China back on speaking terms, there’s no reason to think Chinese nuclear subs help peace but Australian subs wouldn’t. Beijing is angry that, for once, it was out-maneuvered, while arguing that everyone should ignore the international treaty it broke on Hong Kong, and its routine aggression towards Taiwan.

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