March 27, 2023

French and Australian defense and foreign ministers attempted Monday in Paris to mend ties broken after the submarine crisis, also announcing the delivery to Ukraine of jointly manufactured 155mm shells.

The 155 mm shells are those fired by several Western artillery pieces supplied to Ukraine in its war against Russia, such as the French Caesars, the American M777s, or the German Panzerhaubitze 2000s.

“Several thousand 155 mm shells will be produced jointly,” said Mr. Lecornu, adding that the first deliveries were expected in the first quarter of 2023.

“Our armaments industries must produce faster by controlling costs and managing stocks”, he added, believing that the agreement allowed “to do it together, by limiting the budgetary effort and not not drawing from the stock of our armies”.

“The idea is to provide significant help, and an effort that is continuous over time”.

Richard Marles, Australian Minister of Defence, for his part welcomed a “multi-million Australian dollar project” and “new cooperation between Australian and French defense industries”.

On the French side, the contract will be executed by Nexter, in particular with Australian powder.

Trust between Paris and Canberra was shattered in September 2021 when Australia’s former Conservative government abruptly canceled a 90 billion Australian dollar (56 billion euro) contract for twelve submarines from the French group Naval Group, him preferring British or American nuclear-powered submarines.

– Return to a “warm” relationship –

Bilateral relations then remained tense until the election, in May 2022, of a new Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, who has since endeavored to calm relations with Paris, with in particular the will for the two capitals to get along well in the Indo-Pacific zone, a crucial strategic zone for the years to come.

The head of French diplomacy Catherine Colonna, who also received her counterpart Penny Wong, ruled out the “episode” of the submarines with one sentence before expressing the desire to “continue this work of rebuilding a partnership that we want to be ambitious” based on “mutual respect, trust and ambition”.

“The warm atmosphere between the four of us really characterizes perfectly the return of a warm bilateral relationship,” added Mr. Marles for his part.

France, like the United States and a number of Western countries, is trying to strengthen its positions in the Indo-Pacific region, a vast area stretching from the East African coasts to the West American coasts through which passes a crucial part of world trade and where China is increasing its influence.

Paris has many territories and maritime spaces there which offer it a right of inspection and impose constant vigilance on geostrategic balances but also on environmental and fisheries issues, as well as on the fight against the various traffics linked to the oceans.

France has also increased its military presence, giving priority, in addition to its own points of support, to increasing cooperation with neighboring countries. It has multiplied joint exercises (India, Japan) and patrols in the China Sea, which concentrates tensions and where Beijing multiplies provocations and demands.

– “Blank page” –

“The ministers underscored the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and called for the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues through dialogue, without the threat or use of force or coercion” , according to the joint statement of ministers.

President Emmanuel Macron claims the role of Paris as a “balancing power” in the region. But the remoteness of the metropolis and the weakness of the French arsenal in the area against these two super-powers are hardly compatible with these ambitions.

The French strategy lacks “visibility”, estimated in this regard senators in a report published last week.

Sébastien Lecornu nevertheless affirmed that he had obtained the assurance that the AUKUS tripartite alliance (Australia, United Kingdom and United States) did not exclude any bilateral project and allowed the two countries to prepare capacity projects “on a blank page”. .

Other areas discussed included environmental topics and issues related to global warming, including Paris’ support for Australia’s bid to host COP31 in 2026 with Pacific island countries.

“Space is a major point of effort for our armies”, Mr. Lecornu also insisted, without further details.

France will also participate in financing infrastructure in the area, with a “green port” project in Papua New Guinea, while infrastructure financing is one of the axes of Chinese expansion strategy in the area.

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