Catherine Colonna, French Minister of Foreign Affairs and Penny Wong, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs launch the Australia-France road map. (Senator Penny Wong on X)
SYDNEY — France’s foreign minister came to Canberra to put a new spin on her country’s relations with Australia, with the two Pacific powers announcing a France-Australia bilateral road map that includes more military exercises, more defense cooperation and increased intelligence sharing.
“We are deepening military interoperability through more complex joint activities. We are intensifying dialogues, strategic exchanges and intelligence sharing to strengthen our mutual understanding and strengthen cooperation in response to our common strategic challenges,” states the roadmap signed on Monday.
Additionally, both countries will benefit from greater access to each other’s defense facilities. “Improved French access to Australian defense installations will take cooperation to a new level. Greater Australian access to French defense installations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans will facilitate a more sustained Australian presence in priority areas of operations,” the roadmap states.
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Paris and Canberra also aim to increase “mutually beneficial” defense industry cooperation, “through a program of dialogues, exchanges and joint initiatives aimed at fostering increased collaboration between our respective defense industries.” This includes activities carried out within the framework of the declaration of intent to cooperate in the military space sphere and the joint delivery of 155mm ammunition to Ukraine.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, during her first visit to the lucky country, said both countries wanted to “turn the page” on the AUKUS controversy, when, to Australia’s surprise, canceled an agreement of 90 billion Australian dollars. ($59 billion) agreement to purchase a conventionally powered French attack submarine and decided to build its own nuclear-powered SSN AUKUS boats with help from the United Kingdom and the United States. When the previous Scott Morrison government announced the AUKUS deal, France recalled its ambassador and excluded Australia from a strategic partnership.
“Our task was to rebuild, to reset, to use the appropriate word. I don’t know which one you prefer,” Colonna said during the visit.
The new reset of relations was actually the culmination of a process that began in July last year when the new Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, visited Paris and declared: “The relations of the Australia with France are important. Trust, respect and honesty matter. This is how I will approach our relationship.
He was rewarded when the two countries issued a joint statement saying French President Emmanuel Macron and Albanese were committed to “building a closer and stronger relationship.” MacRon previously accused Morrison of lying about canceling the French attack submarine contract.
Colonna told reporters on Monday that “the Indo-Pacific is a top priority for France. We are a Pacific nation.
“We are determined to intensify our cooperation with our partners in the region, including of course our number one partner in the region, Australia. And we must do this to confront global challenges, but also to preserve the rules-based order that we cherish and that we sometimes see undermined,” she said.
She took a moment to wish “a speedy recovery to the Australian naval officer who was injured in (a) recent incident, an incident that should not have happened.”
“France is a power in the Pacific, a power in Europe and a multilateral power, and this is a very important partnership for Australia,” Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said.
Indeed, France has around 3,000 soldiers stationed in the Pacific, mainly in Nouméa and New Caledonia. And France’s commitment to the region is strengthening, with Macron pledging to deploy 200 additional soldiers to Nouméa and invest 150 million euros. ($162 million) there, as well as the creation of a Pacific academy to help train regional militaries.
The new roadmap also calls for enhanced cooperation in Antarctica with Australia, as well as work on critical minerals, an industry in which Australia is a world leader.