The AUKUS submarine spat that triggered a diplomatic crisis between Australia and France appears to be pardoned but not forgotten.
The two nations jointly announced more aid overnight to Ukraine and France threw its support behind Australia’s bid to co-host an upcoming global climate summit but the fracas was not swept under the rug.
It was the first so-called “2+2” meeting of foreign and defence ministers since French President Emmanuel Macron called former prime minister Scott Morrison a liar, a fact not lost on French Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna.
At a press conference with her Australian counterpart, Penny Wong, Defence Minister Richard Marles and French Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu, she almost immediately referred to the imbroglio as “an incident I shall not come back to”.
And Lecornu said sacrifices made by Australian soldiers helping France in past military conflicts helped to put “recent disagreements” into perspective.
Last year, the hatchet was seen to be more or less buried when Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with Macron in Paris to begin a “new chapter” in the relationship.
Overnight, neither Marles nor Wong directly addressed the now-calmed anger over the ripping up of a $90 billion contract with a French company for the delivery of traditional submarines in favour of pursuing nuclear-powered vessels from either the United States or United Kingdom.
Marles spoke of a “high degree of warmth” between the four leaders characterising the bilateral relationship.
And all four ministers were keen to promote the “rebuilding” of the France-Australia relationship, highlighting efforts to work more closely together in the Indo-Pacific, in supporting Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion and even cooperation in space.
The defence ministers said the two countries would work together to make “thousands” of 155mm artillery shells using French manufacturing and Australian gunpowder.
Marles said Australia had some “unique” capabilities that meant the cooperation on what he described as a multimillion-dollar project “makes sense”.
“But it’s also true that we wanted to act together as a statement about how importantly, Australia and France regard the support of Ukraine in the current conflict,” he said.
“And both of us have supported Ukraine separately in other ways, but we wanted to make it really clear that Australia and France do stand together in support of Ukraine in the face of this Russian aggression.”
Colonna also promised to support Australia’s bid to host the COP31 global climate conference in 2026, in partnership with Pacific nations. New Caledonia in the Pacific is a French Territory and less than 1300 kilometres from the Queensland coast.
Colona described the application as “outstanding” and said the fight against global warming held promising potential for the bilateral relationship.
There were no new announcements of lucrative traditional military contracts to replace the submarine deal but Lecornu was quick to stress the military importance of new plans to cooperate in space.
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