No country should be allowed to dominate the Indo-Pacific region, the leaders of France and Australia said Wednesday, as regional capitals fret over the rise of an increasingly assertive China.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday, May 2 that the two nations, alongside fellow democracy India, had a responsibility to protect the region from “hegemony” – a veiled reference to Beijing’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,” he added through an interpreter.
“I would very much like France, given it is the last European member of the E.U. present in the Pacific after Brexit … to be at the heart of this project,” he said. “Our joint responsibility is to build this strong Indo-Pacific axis both to protect our economic interests as well as our security interests. This region is crucial for the stability of the world.”
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.
Neighbor New Zealand has also voiced concerns about “strategic anxiety” – diplomatic code for Beijing’s influence among the region’s island nations.
Reports last month – which were denied – said China wanted to establish a permanent military base in Vanuatu.
Australia’s Lowy Institute estimates China provided $1.78 billion in aid, including concessional loans, to Pacific nations between 2006-16.
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, speaking alongside Macron.
“Now, that rule of law is what we seek to maintain in our region.”
Macron, only the second serving French leader ever to visit Australia, has described ties between the two countries as historic, recalling how Australian soldiers helped defend France in World War I and II.
The two leaders signed a series of agreements, including a new symposium to bolster defence industry and business cooperation to build on a Aus$50 billion (US$37 billion) deal in late 2016 for France to supply Australia’s new fleet of next-generation submarines.
The two nations also signed a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement. There were also climate-based agreements on developing technologies to harness solar power and protect reefs.
Macron on Thursday heads to New Caledonia to rally support for the territory remaining part of France when residents go to a referendum in early November.
With reporting from AFP