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Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said France remains a “vital partner” in the Indo-Pacific region in a bid to quell fury in Paris over the new US naval security pact with Australia and the United Kingdom.
The agreement announced this week by Joe Biden, the US President, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, is seen as a historic initiative to strengthen their defense cooperation against a rising China. .
But the deal met a harsh reaction from France, whose own lucrative submarine contract and partnership with Australia was scrapped as a result of the new trilateral initiative.
Senior French officials have criticized the United States for “inconsistency” in excluding France from the pact, which has brought diplomatic relations between Washington and Paris to the lowest point of the Biden presidency. US officials only discussed the pact with their French counterparts this week, the day it was announced.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Blinken sought to ease French concerns that the new security agreement with Australia and the United Kingdom would be a betrayal or rejection of France and its role as a Pacific power.
“We cooperate incredibly closely with France on many shared priorities in the Indo-Pacific, but also beyond the entire world. We will continue to do so. We place a fundamental value on that relationship, that partnership, ”said Blinken.
He later added that “there was no regional divide separating the interests of our Atlantic and Pacific partners,” and emphasized the US desire for “close cooperation with NATO, the EU and others in this effort.”
“France, in particular, is a vital partner on this and many other issues, dating back generations,” added the top US diplomat.
Blinken was flanked during the press conference by Lloyd Austin, the US Secretary of Defense and his Australian counterparts. Austin said the deal will strengthen what he called “built-in deterrence” in the region, in the face of the “increasingly controversial security environment in the Indo-Pacific.”
Austin noted “China’s destabilizing activities and Beijing’s efforts to coerce and intimidate other countries, contrary to established rules and norms,” adding: “While we seek a constructive and results-oriented relationship with [China], we will keep our clear vision of Beijing’s efforts to undermine the established international order. ”
Earlier Thursday, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, accused Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of double standards and an “antiquated zero-sum cold war mentality.”
The outrage in France over the deal highlights the difficulty for the United States to rally all its Western allies around a more assertive approach from China on the security front, even though other EU countries are less committed and they are less sensitive to the new trilateral pact.
But France’s unhappiness was so palpable that it tempered the celebrations for the 240th anniversary of the Battle of the Capes, a turning point in the American revolution, including the cancellation of a gala dinner at the French embassy in Washington.