European leaders have backed Australia against Beijing’s ongoing economic coercion campaign and its increased belligerence in the Indo-Pacific region.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was in Paris on Tuesday where he met with French President Emmanuel Macron at Elysees Palace. They discussed issues ranging from tensions in the Indo-Pacific, counter-terrorism efforts, and the Future Submarine Program.
Macron publicly backed the prime minister and rebuked the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s aggression in the South China Sea.
“You are at the forefront of the tensions that exist in the region, of the threats, and sometimes intimidation, and I want to reiterate here how much we stand by your side,” he told reporters.
“I would like to reiterate how committed France remains to defending the balance in the Indo-Pacific region and how much we consider the partnership we have with Australia is essential in the Indo-Pacific strategy,” he added.
“We firmly reject any coercive economic measures taken against Australia in flagrant violation of international law.”
During the press conference, Morrison described the firm relationship between Australia and France.
“No one understands liberty more than the French,” Morrison told reporters.
“Affinity is the word we use to describe our partnership—an affinity across so many areas of the relationship,” he added.
“Every element of our partnership is about reinforcing the values and beliefs we hold dearly.”
France has upped its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region in recent months, engaging in joint naval exercises with Australian naval ships through the South China Sea in April. France also has a stake in the region as it maintains sovereignty over French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Wallis and Futuna.
The Australian government is also scrutinising the progress of the Future Submarine Program, where French defence contractor Naval Group was earmarked to deliver 12 Attack-Class submarines. The program has suffered continuous delays and has cost the government AU$1.5 billion so far.
Meanwhile, hours earlier, the prime minister was in London with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to finalise a free trade deal between Australia and the United Kingdom.
Johnson also backed Australia saying the United Kingdom stood “shoulder to shoulder” with the fellow Commonwealth nation.
“I probably speak for Scott as well when I say nobody wants to descend into a new Cold War with China—we don’t see that as the way forward,” he told reporters. “This is a difficult relationship where it is vital to engage with China in as positive a way as we can.”
“I think people are worried about what’s happening to the Uyghurs, they’re worried about the general repressions of liberties in Hong Kong, and some of the ways China behaves in its region, and it actually behaves particularly towards Australia.”
Morrison said the newly minted agreement would allow Australia to diversify its trade away from China.
“This provides more opportunities and greater resilience for Australia’s exporters all around the world,” he told reporters.
Around $20 billion worth of Australian exports have been targeted by Beijing in retaliation to calls last year in April for an investigation into the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
The Chinese Embassy also leaked an unofficial document to Australian media detailing 14 grievances the CCP had against the Australian government, including its ban on Huawei from participating in its 5G network rollout, and tighter foreign interference and investment laws.
Australian government ministers have weathered the storm however, emphasising that the country’s “national interest” was not negotiable.
Meanwhile, the show of support from the British and French leaders comes after Group of Seven (G-7) and NATO leaders released joint statements calling out Beijing for human rights abuses, issues in the South China Sea, the loss of autonomy in Hong Kong, and called for peace in the Taiwan Strait while demanding a full investigation into the origins of COVID-19.