Macron assures Australia of commitment to submarine deal

French President Emmanuel Macron (left) greets Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Elysee Palace in Paris on June 15, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday (June 15) promised "full and complete" commitment to a huge but much-delayed submarine deal with Australia, promising to go "further and faster if possible".

Speaking alongside Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Paris ahead of a working dinner, Macron called the US$68 billion (S$90 billion) agreement signed in 2016 a "pillar of our partnership and the relationship of confidence between our countries".

"I want to assure you of our full and complete commitment. That of French companies, and American companies working with us... that of the whole French government in order to meet our common ambitions, to go further and faster if possible," he added.

The deal with France's Naval Group to build 12 state-of-the-art Attack Class subs is years behind schedule, well over budget and has become tangled up in Australian domestic politics.

A top Australian defence official said in early June that Australia was actively considering alternatives should the French deal fall through.

Along with Australia's tense relations with China, the future of the project is expected to be a hot topic of discussion during the dinner at the Elysee Palace.

Morrison made no mention of the troubled submarine contract, but he thanked Macron for the "work you've done in supporting and standing with Australia as we go through difficult times in the Indo-Pacific".

China has imposed harsh economic sanctions on a range of Australian products in recent months, including tariffs or disruption across several agricultural sectors, coal, wine and tourism.

Many in Canberra believe the measures are punishment for pushing back against China's influence operations in Australia, rejecting Chinese investment in sensitive areas and publicly calling for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.

Macron said he rejected "firmly all coercive economic measures taken against Australia in blatant violation of international law."

"We are good friends. We are good partners. We share common goals and common values. Our partnership of liberty and affinity is one that will be able to progress further this evening," Morrison concluded.

Macron has sought to deepen ties with Australia, paying a visit to the country in 2018, as part of a strategy of building up an axis of Indo-Pacific democracies that also includes India.

French and Australian naval ships performed joint patrols in the South China Sea in April.

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