Macron on a France mission in the Pacific, a year after the submarine “smack” with Australia

WILLY KURNIAWAN / AFP Emmanuel Macron, November 15, 2022, during the G20 Summit in Bali.


Emmanuel Macron, November 15, 2022, during the G20 Summit in Bali.

POLITICS – From Bali to Bangkok. Emmanuel Macron starts this Wednesday, November 16, in a new diplomatic marathon in the Indo-Pacific region with one goal: France’s position in this territory, located about ten thousand kilometers from Paris and where the commercial, military and geopolitics of are vital to affirm future.

Until Friday, November 18, the President of the Republic will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC) in Bangkok, Thailand. A first for a European head of state.

After meetings and exchanges with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indonesia’s Joko Widodo and Indian Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on the sidelines of the G20, Emmanuel Macron will seek to reinvigorate France’s strategic ambitions in Asia-Pacific, updated hurt by the crisis with Australia over a mega-submarine contract. Above all, he hopes for one ” Knowledge “ France’s ambitions and influence at the Apec summit, according to the Elysée.

The Indo-Pacific, a strategic priority for France

Emmanuel Macron made this vast area, stretching from the East African to the West American coasts, a strategic priority – hence its name “Indo-Pacific” – where France has many territories and sea areas. There are many challenges there. This nerve center of world trade will be home to 60% of the world’s population and gross domestic product by 2030. It is attracting all the more attention as it is the scene of a growing rivalry between China and the United States.

In this region, France has most of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the second largest in the world, divided around seven areas from Réunion to New Caledonia and Tahiti, home to 1.65 million inhabitants. This vast sea space gives it a leading right of control over environmental and fisheries-related issues, as well as combating maritime trade.

France is also increasingly militarily present and, in addition to its own bases, prefers growing cooperation with neighboring countries. It is stepping up joint exercises (India, Japan) and patrols in the China Sea, an area where tensions are concentrated and where Beijing is ramping up its demands.

The “big hit” of the AUKUS Alliance

The conclusion of the AUKUS alliance between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, with the consequence that Canberra terminated a contract for the acquisition of twelve French submarines, severely thwarted these ambitions in 2021. “The big slap in the face is not even being invited to the AUKUS Alliance on a jump seat”notes geopolitics expert Jean-Marc Balencia.

However, after this diplomatic quarrel, the leaders managed to come to an agreement. Emmanuel Macron has reconciled with his American counterpart Joe Biden, who made amends in the AUKUS affair and is expecting him in Washington on December 1 for a state visit.

It’s also time to warm up with Australia and its new Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. Paris may even be in line again to sell submarines to Australia while awaiting promises from the United States.

France, “third player” in the region?

The AUKUS affair is also likely to have an unexpected positive effect, demonstrating France’s non-alignment with Washington, while many states in the region refuse to choose between the United States and China. “AUKUS paradoxically gave us some arguments, we can play this kind of third actor”says Admiral Pascal Ausseur, Director General of the Mediterranean Foundation for Strategic Studies (FMES). “We don’t have a boulevard because the two big ones don’t leave us much space, but there is a space”.

France’s room for maneuver also remains limited militarily. Only 7,000 soldiers are permanently stationed in the area, plus a few patrol boats and reconnaissance planes. “Its territorial sovereignty forces are saturated with territorial surveillance missions”notes Céline Pajon from the French Institute for International Relations (Ifri).

In order to secure a place, in recent months France has increased its cooperation with Indonesia, a regional superpower (270 million inhabitants), and intends to multiply these partnerships. During the bilateral meeting at the G20 with President Joko Widodo, Emmanuel Macron ” Reaffirms France’s commitment to the region to promote stability and cooperation in the face of common challenges”said the Elysee. Jakarta signed an initial deal to acquire French Rafale fighter jets in February and is interested in submarines, corvettes and other military equipment.

The French strategy is part of the European Union’s new Indo-Pacific approach. “In order to be convincing, it has to be concretely implemented, legible and visible as quickly as possible”the researcher warns.

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