France Angry Over Exclusion From US–China Containment Policies

Australia has chosen US nuclear subs over French diesel subs
September 21, 2021 Updated: September 30, 2021

News Analysis

France has recalled its ambassadors from the United States and Australia in protest over America’s new national security partnership with the United Kingdom and Australia, as well as a U.S. nuclear-propulsion submarine deal with Australia.

France was angered because Australia abandoned their $65 billion defense deal, which provided the latter with diesel-powered submarines. Instead, Australia chose to enter into an agreement with the United States and the UK for nuclear-powered vessels.

The U.S. nuclear submarine pact with Australia and the UK has been denounced by both China and France. China doesn’t like the fact that Australia will have improved defense capabilities, while France, on the other hand, is upset because it sees cooperation between the United States, the UK, and Australia as an Anglophone cabal.

France is also quick to point out that it’s America’s oldest ally, since it helped the United States fight the War of Independence against Britain.

Hurt feelings aside, providing Australia with nuclear-powered submarines has been seen as an important step toward reining in China. Control of the Indo-Pacific region is a key component to China’s global superiority ambitions, as well as allied attempts to counter China. And having Australian nuclear-propulsion submarines patrolling the region would help to preserve freedom of navigation and would even have long-term implications for the continued democratic independence of Taiwan.

Epoch Times Photo
A Royal Australian Navy diesel and electric-powered Collins-class submarine sits in Sydney harbor, Australia, on Oct. 12, 2016. (Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. nuclear submarine deal with Australia is consistent with other commitments the United States has with Australia, such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD), or “the Quad,” which includes Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. Similarly, the purpose of the Quad is to counter China’s military expansion in the region.

In addition to countering China in general, each of the Quad’s members is facing its own individual conflicts with China. Japan and China have a dispute over the Senkaku Islands, as well as territorial waters and freedom of navigation in the South and East China Seas. Tokyo also has expressed its concerns about Beijing’s threats toward Taiwan.

Australia has angered China by calling for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19, causing the regime in Beijing to ban billions of dollars in Australian imports. India has fought multiple border skirmishes with China, most recently in the Ladakh region.

Comparing the firepower of the world’s largest militaries demonstrates how large China’s military is and why it’s important for democratic nations to form alliances. Any of the U.S. allies, standing alone, would be no match for China. Without those alliances, Beijing could use force to control the Indo–Pacific region, transworld shipping, global trade, and, of course, it could capture Taiwan.

The United States ranks as the world’s most powerful military with 2.2 million people in military services, 1.4 million on active duty, and a towering defense budget of $740 billion. Russia comes in second with 3.5 million people in military service, about 1 million on active duty, and a defense budget of $42 billion. China ranks third, with 3.4 million people in the military, 2.1 million on active duty, and a defense budget of $178 billion. France ranks 17th—it has 450,000 people in the military, 270,000 on active duty, and $47.7 billion as its defense budget.

It’s interesting to note that Australia ranks 19th—in spite of the country’s small size, it has 80,000 people in military service and 60,000 on active duty, while its defense budget is $42.7 billion.

The USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz
The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76, front) and USS Nimitz (CVN 68, rear) Carrier Strike Groups sail together in formation, in the South China Sea, on July 6, 2020. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jason Tarleton/U.S. Navy via AP)

When it comes to naval power, the top three countries line up similarly, except that China has more ships, but not necessarily more firepower than the United States. America has the largest number of naval personnel at 400,000 and the largest naval budget at $161 billion. Another way of measuring superiority is by gross tonnage. The U.S. Navy has nearly four times as much gross tonnage as either Russia or China.

An important metric for a country’s naval power is the number of aircraft carriers. There are 44 active aircraft carriers in the world. The United States has 20 of them, while Japan and France each have four. China has two in commission, with more under construction.

Another important metric is the number of nuclear ballistic-missile submarines—the United States ranks first with 14. Additionally, all U.S. submarines, regardless of weaponry, use nuclear propulsion. France and the UK each have four. China has between four and six nuclear ballistic-missile submarines.

In spite of not ranking in the top three countries in terms of overall military or naval power, France ranks very high in the Indo-Pacific region, where it maintains 7,000 active military personnel in places such as French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Reunion. Therefore, France is correct that it has skin in the game and shouldn’t be shut out of Indo-Pacific defense agreements.

On the other hand, France should also accept that the United States, as the largest military power in the region, will take a leading role in those agreements. It should also recognize that for Australia and Taiwan, the security threat posed by China is very real and very immediate. While France has possessions in the region, the bulk of France’s people and interests are within the country itself, thousands of miles away from the line of fire.

The Biden administration has reaffirmed its commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, as well as to Australia, saying that the nuclear submarine deal was part of his “America is back” foreign policy. The administration is maintaining most of the previous U.S.–China policies, with increased naval and military commitments to the Indo-Pacific, as well as continued arms sales to both Taiwan and Australia.

It would seem a sophomoric error for France to allow a perceived offense to damage its commitment to defending the Indo-Pacific region. According to Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, China poses the greatest long-term strategic threat in this century. Therefore, supporting, arming, and committing to defense alliances such as the Quad is paramount to maintaining the freedom of nations, including Australia, Taiwan, Japan, India, and, ultimately, France and the world.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Antonio Graceffo, Ph.D., has spent over 20 years in Asia. He is a graduate of Shanghai University of Sport and holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University. Antonio works as an economics professor and China economic analyst, writing for various international media. Some of his books on China include "Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion" and "A Short Course on the Chinese Economy."