French President Emmanuel Macron has criticised Australia’s decision to acquire nuclear submarines under the AUKUS pact, warning the move could stoke “nuclear confrontation” with China.
He made the remarks just a day after meeting Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, in a sign he is still seething over Scott Morrison’s decision to scrap the $90 billion French Naval Group submarine contract.
Speaking in Bangkok ahead of the APEC leaders forum on Thursday, Mr Macron said the decision to opt for the AUKUS built subs had undermined Australia’s sovereignty.
“We were helping and accompanying Australia in building a submarine fleet in-house, an industrial cooperation,” he said.
“So it was both industrial cooperation and giving sovereignty to Australia, because they will maintain the submarines themselves, and it is not confrontational to China because they are not nuclear-powered submarines.
“But the choice made by (former) prime minister Morrison was the opposite, re-entering into nuclear confrontation, making himself completely dependent by deciding to equip themselves (with a) submarine fleet that the Australians are incapable of producing and maintaining in-house.”
Mr Macron said France’s offer to supply Australia with conventional submarines was still “on the table” despite the Albanese Government’s decision to pursue the AUKUS deal.
China has repeatedly rallied against the AUKUS security pact, which will see Australia acquire eight nuclear submarines from the United States or United Kingdom.
The Chinese government wrote to International Atomic Energy Agency in September demanding it block the deal, arguing the submarine fleet may be a surreptitious attempt to develop nuclear weapons.
“The AUKUS partnership involves the illegal transfer of nuclear weapon materials, making it essentially an act of nuclear proliferation,” China said in a position paper sent to IAEA members.
Mr Morrison’s deal with the US and the UK, known as AUKUS, marked a new phase of cooperation in the Indo-Pacific but also led to the deterioration of the relationship between the former prime minister and French President.
At the G20 Summit in Rome last year, Mr Macron was asked whether Mr Morrison had lied to him when cancelling the Naval Group’s submarines contract.
“I don’t think, I know,” Mr Macron said.
“The AUKUS deal was very bad news for France — but not just for France, because I think it’s a very bad news for credibility of Australia and a very bad news for the trust that great partners can have with the Australians.”
Since the election, Mr Albanese has attempted to repair bilateral relations, visiting the Elysee Palace to meet with the French leader and his wife Brigette in July.
On Wednesday evening the two leaders warmly greeted each other in Bali and reiterated their commitment to maintaining defence ties in the Pacific.