In a chat with a former Malaysian defence minister, Ms Florence Parly was told that France and the United States paint an ideal about the freedom of navigation and rules-based order, but leave Asian nations to deal with the reality.
Revealing this anecdote yesterday, the French Minister for the Armed Forces said she challenged this assertion as she stressed that France would not be going anywhere as it was part of the region.
"We have territories here... and the responsibility that goes with the territory. The evolving security order affects us too," she said, without revealing who the former Malaysian minister was and when the chat took place.
She was speaking at a session on Asia's evolving security order and its challenges, alongside Malaysia's Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu and the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Defence Penny Mordaunt, at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue defence forum.
Ms Parly said France had recently reviewed its Indo-Pacific strategy and the assessment "is not particularly uplifting", with growing strategic competition, receding multilateralism and core values like sovereign equality and respect of borders on the wane.
Against this backdrop, France has identified five main priorities in dealing with the region, she added.
First, it will protect its sovereign interests, nationals, territories and exclusive economic zones in the region. "Our forces will be ready to face any kind of threats, whether from terrorism, organised crime and any attempts to undermine French sovereignty," said Ms Parly, who pointed out that she was accompanied by a French carrier strike group that arrived in Singapore last week.
"Some of these threats are straightforward, some are insidious - we will confront them anyway."
Second, France will contribute to regional stability through military and security cooperation. She highlighted the centrality of Asean, and said her country has taken steps to work closer with the regional bloc.
Third, it will preserve free and open access to maritime lines of communication, together with its partners.
"What is at stake goes beyond the prosperity of Europe and the preservation of trade arteries that are vital to the world. This is a question of principle," she said. "Where rules are no longer the boundary of ambition, what security can there be for smaller states in the region?"
She did not name any specific actors, but said France will "go about this issue in our own steady, non-confrontational but obstinate way". This includes sailing more than twice a year in the South China Sea, she said.
The other priorities are to contribute to strategic stability through multilateral action, as well as to learn how to anticipate environmental catastrophes in the region.
"In a peaceful, multilateral but robust way, we hope to accompany the vast rebalancing that is taking place in the region," she said.