'Stab in the back': French furious and China warns of arms race over nuclear pact

16 September 2021, 09:21 | Updated: 17 September 2021, 17:53

  • French FM 'extremely angry' after Aussies scrap nuclear sub deal in favour of UK/US tech
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  • China slams alliance as 'highly irresponsible' and risks new arms race
  • New Zealand bans Australian subs from their waters
The French and Chinese have made clear their anger at the new AUKUS security alliance.
The French and Chinese have made clear their anger at the new AUKUS security alliance. Picture: Alamy

By Joe Cook

France has accused Australia of a "stab in the back" after they scrapped plans to buy £43 billion worth of French nuclear submarines.

At the heart of the new Indo-Pacific AUKUS pact, Canberra, Westminster and Washington have agreed to work together on building new nuclear-powered submarines for Australia.

But as part of the new deal the Australians will also rip up plans for a 50 billion euro submarine deal with France, in a move that has fuelled fury in Paris.

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"It's a stab in the back. We had established a trusting relationship with Australia, and this trust was betrayed," French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in an interview on Thursday.

"This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr Trump used to do," he continued.

"It's a break in trust and I am extremely angry."

It comes amidst warnings from China that the new alliance is a "highly irresponsible" threat to regional peace and stability, and a New Zealand ban on any nuclear submarines entering their waters.

Speaking at a press conference from Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman said the AUKUS pact "seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race".

He added that it was “highly irresponsible” for the U.S. and Britain to export the nuclear technology, and blamed Australia for a breakdown in bilateral relations between Beijing and Canberra.

“The most urgent task is for Australia to correctly recognise the reasons for the setbacks in the relations between the two countries, and think carefully whether to treat China as a partner or a threat,” he continued.

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Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman said the AUKUS pact "seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race".
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman said the AUKUS pact "seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race". Picture: Alamy

Boris Johnson defended the Government's decision to join the AUKUS pact, saying the UK's military relationship with France remains "rock solid".

He told the Commons on Thursday: "The House should be in no doubt that this Government's commitment to Nato is absolutely unshakeable and indeed has been strengthened by the massive commitments we have made, the biggest uplift in defence spending since the Cold War."

He said: "Our relationship with France, our military relationship with France, again, Mr Speaker, is rock solid.

"And we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the French, whether in the Sahel where we are running a joint operation against terrorists in Mali, or whether in Estonia where we currently we have the largest Nato operation."

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British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has also defended the move, saying that Britain had not gone "fishing" for the opportunity to build nuclear-powered submarines for Australia.

"Fundamentally the Australians made a decision they wanted a different capability," Mr Wallace said.

"We have no intention of doing anything to antagonise the French - the French are some of our closest military allies in Europe, we're sizeable and comparable forces and we do things together."

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The multi-billion-euro deal had been reconfirmed by Australian ministers just two weeks ago and only further highlights France's conspicuous lack of involvement in the new AUKUS alliance.

In a statement France said it is a "reliable partner which will continue to keep its commitments" in the Indo-Pacific region, "as it has always done".

The issue "only reinforces the need to raise the issue of European strategic autonomy loud and clear," it continued.

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The comments follow an admonishment from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for the EU lacking the political will to create an EU army.

"If we develop this political will, there is a lot that we can do at EU level," she told the EU Parliament.