Over the past two years, there has been a significant strengthening of relations between Australia and France. Australia's relations with France seem to be becoming more and more important for the Asia-Pacific area. France is a regionally powerful country with 1.6 million French nationals in the Pacific regions of France and a significant proportion of marine equipment and forces deployed in the area.
The French remain one of the few countries with navies of worldwide scope. Australia's most notable sign of this reinforcement was its April 2016 move to have its new submarine fleets constructed by the French nationally controlled French National Group ("Naval Group", formerly DCNS) for $39 billion.
In France, the call for tenders proposed what some saw as a more powerful Japan bid. U-boats will be added to the Australian navy between mid-2030 and 2050, meaning that they will work closely together for at least three decade-long periods. This U-boat agreement was concluded two month after the publication of the Australian Defence White Paper in 2016, in which France was an important partner for Australia's territorial safety alongside the United States, New Zealand and Japan.
In September 2016, at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the French Pacific regions of New Caledonia and French Polynesia were accepted as full members into the South Pacific primarily multi-lateral context. Up until recently, France was considered a rather destructive power in the Pacific. Between 1966 and 1996, France carried out comprehensive tests of its atomic arms, adopted an obstructive attitude towards all independent movement in the area, and in 1985 blown up the Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior, in the port of Auckland.
The fact that France is now well received by Australia, and thus by the Pacific region as a whole, suggests that the earlier doubts about France's engagement in the Pacific are offset by greater doubts about more significant geographical changes. The French are already involved in a number of important local safety architectures. She is a member of the Quadrilateral Defense Coordination Group (QUAD) together with the United States, Australia and New Zealand, which co-ordinates the Asia-Pacific Marine Co-operation.
France is also part of the France-Australia-New Zealand (FRANZ) cooperation and coordination arrangement for this area. The French armed services stationed in New Caledonia are hosting the biannual Croix du Sud emergency aid mission, which also involves members from the states in and around the Pacific.
In the next few months, a French fregate will participate in anti-submarine war exercises with Australia's present U-boat fleets off the west Australian coastline, and France will station its logistical vessel for its Antarctica missions in Hobart for half of the year. In addition to these areas of co-operation, recent statements by the head of the French naval administration, Admiral Christophe Prazuck, give a good hint as to why relations between Australia and France are being further strengthened and what the futu-re.
Mr Prászuck was in Sydney at the beginning of October for the Pacific 2017 International Maritime Exhibition, where he suggested that Australia and France could possibly undertake Freedom of Navigation (FON) patrolling in the South China Sea. Obviously, France remains very concerned about China's threats to the situation in the area.
The Asian-Pacific area is becoming increasingly economically interesting for France, and it is still essential for its capacity to move its equipment between its base in Europe, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Australasia is not currently participating in the South China Sea Freedom of Navigation exercise, but it is still a celebrity in the Australian safety community and is also being promoted from outside.
Australia seems to see the establishment of stronger relations for safety with France - a like-minded country with considerable capacities and additional strength in diplomacy - as the best means of providing protection in the regions against the present US unstability. It is incapable of determining whether this volatility is an Aberration or long-term and whether it could result in the US withdrawing from the Asia-Pacific area.
Promoting a greater French presence in the Pacific and its environs therefore seems Australia's best strategy to defend a statute quote that has worked well for Australia's interests.