SYDNEY • No country can be allowed to dominate the Indo-Pacific, the leaders of France and Australia said yesterday, as regional capitals fret over the rise of an increasingly assertive China.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the two nations - with fellow democracy India - had a responsibility to protect the region from "hegemony" - a veiled reference to China's growing might.
"What's important is to preserve rules-based development in the region... and to preserve necessary balances in the region.
"It's important with this new context not to have any hegemony."
France has a number of island territories in the Pacific Ocean.
Australia has become increasingly alarmed at China's push into the Pacific, which could potentially upset the strategic balance in the region. Neighbour New Zealand has also voiced concerns about "strategic anxiety" - diplomatic code for Beijing's influence among the region's island nations.
French President in 'delicious' faux pas
SYDNEY • French President Emmanuel Macron may have had le vin rouge on his mind when he thanked Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his "delicious wife" for their warm welcome on his official visit.
During a news conference, Mr Macron thanked Mr Turnbull and his wife Lucy for being good hosts and acknowledged the fine food and wine he had enjoyed on his visit, before exclaiming: "I want to thank you for your welcome, you and your delicious wife for the warm welcome." The comment lit up social media.
Sydney-based translator Ian Davies said he doubted Mr Macron had made a straight translation faux pas because a French speaker would never use the word delicieux to describe a person.
"Presumably he meant she was delightful," Mr Davies said. "You say delicieux about a patisserie not a person."
Reports last month - which were denied by China - said Beijing wanted to establish a permanent military base in Vanuatu.
Australia's Lowy Institute estimates China provided US$1.78 billion (S$2.38 billion) in aid, including concessional loans, to Pacific nations between 2006 and 2016.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who called France "a Pacific power", said he welcomed the economic rise of China and its investment, adding that it was crucial all sides work together in the Indo-Pacific.
"A rule of law that says might is not right, that the big fish cannot eat the little fish and the little fish eat the shrimps, that is absolutely critical," he said.
Mr Macron heads to New Caledonia today to rally support for the territory to remain part of France when residents go to a referendum in early November.
Speaking on Iran yesterday, Mr Macron said he did not know if US President Donald Trump would stick to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that many in the West see as the best hope of preventing Teheran from getting a nuclear bomb.
Mr Macron, followed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, visited Washington last week in the hope of persuading Mr Trump not to reimpose sanctions on Iran before a May 12 deadline and imperil the 2015 deal but the White House has sounded unconvinced.
Under the accord, Teheran agreed to limit its nuclear programme in return for relief from sanctions. The deal was struck by Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United States and Iran.
"I don't know what the US president will decide," Mr Macron said, adding that he had pushed the idea of a much broader Iran agreement with Mr Trump, which was received "very positively".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS