U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said France was a “vital partner” in the Indo-Pacific region and that Washington would continue to cooperate with Paris, comments that appeared aimed at calming French anger after the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom clinched a historic defense export contract to supply Australia with submarines.
The three countries announced on Wednesday they would establish a security partnership for the Indo-Pacific that will help Australia acquire U.S. nuclear-powered submarines and scrap the $40 billion French-designed submarine deal.
France has reacted angrily to the loss of the deal, calling it a “stab in the back.”
Speaking at a news conference after meetings between the U.S. and Australian foreign and defense ministers in Washington, Blinken said Washington had been in touch with its French counterparts before the announcement of the submarine deal.
“We cooperate incredibly closely with France on many shared priorities in the Indo-Pacific but also beyond around the world. We’re going to continue to do so. We place fundamental value on that relationship, on that partnership,” Blinken said.
In 2016 Australia had selected French shipbuilder Naval Group to build a new submarine fleet worth $40 billion to replace its more than two-decades-old Collins submarines.
The United States and its allies are looking for ways to push back against China’s growing power and influence, particularly its military buildup, pressure on Taiwan and deployments in the contested South China Sea.
The White House on Thursday defended the U.S. decision, rejecting criticism from both China and France over the deal.
“We do not seek conflict with China,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
China said the United States, Australia and the UK were “severely damaging regional peace and stability.”
“In our view it’s about security in the Indo-Pacific,” said Psaki.
She said she would leave it to Australia on why they sought this technology from the United States.
“We don’t see this from our end as a regional divide. We see this as areas and security issues that we want to take on together,” she said.