Between China and the United States, a difficult French “third way”

This remains one of the main issues of the submarine crisis, while Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron must speak again in the coming days on the phone. Consultations undertaken to try to overcome the quarrel linked to the Aukus defense pact, concluded between Canberra, London and Washington, negotiated behind the back of Paris. The alliance announced on September 15 shattered the long-standing partnership between France and Australia around the sale of conventional submarines, a contract itself considered emblematic of the French presence in the world. ‘Indo-Pacific.

The blow was brutal, triggering black anger in Paris. He also shed light on the limits of France’s positioning, in a context of growing rivalries between the United States and China: with Aukus, Joe Biden dealt a severe blow to the efforts made by Paris to try to carry out a policy. autonomous vis-à-vis Beijing, even if it means taking its liberties with Washington’s choices.

Read the big story: Article reserved for our subscribers How Aukus torpedoed the sale of French submarines to Australia

French ideas are not recent. Some present them, within the French executive, as a “Third way” between an increasingly aggressive China and the American ally, each day more concerned with containing its great Asian rival. The idea of ​​making French interests prevail is all the stronger as Paris is wary of the escalation, or even the risk of confrontation, between the two powers, in an atmosphere sometimes considered as a “new cold war”. “France refuses the confrontational logic of the United States, of which it is of course an ally, and wants to spare the ways of cooperation with China”, they say in Paris. An analysis reinforced by the Trump years, Sino-American relations having deteriorated considerably during the term of the former Republican president. And which is not called into question, despite the Aukus affair.

For French diplomacy, China must be considered both as a partner on global issues, such as the fight against global warming, and as a “Systemic rival” against which it is necessary to know “Show muscles when necessary”, specifies a French representative. “But the military escalation in the Indo-Pacific means nothing to Europeans: even if they feel closer to the United States, they do not want to get embroiled in a Sino-American military competition”, explains Jean-Marie Guéhenno, former Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations and professor at Columbia University.

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